Birubala Rabha, who has been crusading against witch hunting, said it is was very good step but the most important thing was to make people aware and strict enforcement of laws
Activists campaigning against superstition have welcomed the Presidential nod to the Assam Anti-Witch Hunting Bill but say policing alone cannot deal with the problem which has to overcome by creating awareness in society.
The Assam Assembly had unanimously passed the Assam Witch Hunting (Prohibition, Prevention and Protection) Bill, 2015 on August 13, 2015 and had forwarded it to the Centre for final approval. The President of India gave his assent only last month.
Birubala Rabha, who has been crusading against witch hunting, said it is was very good step but the most important thing was to make people aware and strict enforcement of laws.
"We have been working our whole life against all odds without any support from law. But now because of this Act, those involved in killing people by branding them as witches will think twice before committing the crime," she told PTI.
Rabha and her NGO 'Mission Birubala' have been working in severe hostile situations in remote places where villagers have tried to kill the 'iron lady' by branding her as a witch on several occasions.
Assam Additional Director General of Police (CID) Anil Kumar Jha said between 2001 and 2017, 193 people -- 114 women and 79 men -- have been branded as witches and killed across Assam.
"Police have registered 202 cases during this period. The worst is Kokrajhar district, where 56 cases were reported. It is followed by Chirang with 24, Udalguri with 15 and Baksa with 11 cases," he added.
All the four districts comprise the Bodoland Territorial Area districts.
Jha said, "The new Act is of course a positive step for society to tackle the witch-hunting menace. But the solution of witch hunting problem lies in the active participation of all stakeholders of society."
Renowned theatre personality and film maker Sitanath Lahkar said it will not be so easy to eliminate the heinous crime.
"This is an ugliest form of superstition and has been continuing for thousands of years. Enacting this Act is a real welcome step, but we cannot eliminate witch hunting only by police method. Witch hunting has no reason at all and is shrouded with darkness of superstition, which has to be overcome by society itself," he added.
Lahkar's widely-appreciated 'Aei Maatite' is the first Assamese full-length feature film on this burning problem and is being screened at various rural places with the help of local groups.
He has also written a few stage and street plays on the witch hunting menace and staged them across the state with the help of his group -- Samahar Natya Gosthee.
Welcoming the President's move, Lurinjyoti Gogoi, the General Secretary of the powerful All Assam Students' Union (AASU), which has been working for creating awareness among the people, said providing basic infrastructure in remote areas is essential to eliminate this menace from society.
"It is really unfortunate that even in the 21st Century, such incidents are taking place. It is a shame on our civilisation. Only law cannot eradicate such a practice, which is so deep rooted. People must be given education and government must launch a massive awareness drive," he added.
Gogoi also demanded the government provide facilities such as healthcare, drinking water and schools in areas where witch hunting menace is rampant.
The Assam Witch Hunting (Prohibition, Prevention and Protection) Act, 2015 makes every offence related to witch hunting as cognizable, non-bailable and non-compoundable, making provisions for imprisonment up to seven years along with a fine of up to Rs 5 lakh for identifying and calling a person a witch.
This will come with Section 302 of the IPC if someone is killed after branding as a witch.
The punishment for leading a person to commit suicide after intimidating, stigmatising, defaming and accusing as witch may be extended to life imprisonment and a fine up to Rs 5 lakh.
The Act also talks about various measures that the administration and police need to initiate along with NGOs and civil society to educate people about witch hunting.
Besides, the Act said the fine realised as punishment for an offence shall be paid to the victim or his/her next of kin as compensation by following due procedures.
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Last Updated 17, Jul 2018, 1:37 PM