Women in east India continue to struggle against witch-hunting

A street theater group at the Indian village of Birbans raises awareness about the social impact of accusing women of ‘witchcraft.’ (AN photo)
Updated 20 September 2017
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Women in east India continue to struggle against witch-hunting

NEW DELHI: Since a mob lynching of five alleged witches in Kajiya Maraytoli village in the eastern Indian state of Jharkhand, nearly 30 male villagers are behind bars, another 30 have fled, and those still around prefer to lie low.
Those left in the village of around 200 people are mostly women. Kajiya Maraytoli grabbed public attention on Aug. 5, 2015, when five women were dragged from their homes in the middle of the night and beaten to death by a mob of male villagers for alleged witchcraft.
Two years on, normalcy is yet to return. “We fought hard with the villagers and tried stopping them, arguing with them,” Usha Khalkha, 25, who lost her mother-in-law that night, told Arab News.
“I confronted the crowd and asked why my mother (in-law) is being branded a witch, but they pushed me and my husband aside.”
A few days before the lynching, a teenage boy died due to abdominal pain. His parents took him to a local sorcerer, and he blamed the sickness on witchcraft.
“This belief in the existence of witchcraft is the reason why this village suffers today, and most of the men are either jailed or absconders, even after two years,” said Khalkha.
Chootni Mahto, 58, has been combating this medieval belief for the last two decades in Birbans village, some 200 km away from Kajiya Maraytoli.
In 1996, Mahto was beaten by villagers for alleged witchcraft and left for dead. A passer-by found her and saved her life.
Her husband abandoned her, siding with the villagers. But her brother came to her rescue and gave her a plot of land on the outskirts of the village to build a small hutment.
The hutment today serves as a rescue center for many women in her village and surrounding areas.
As part of the Free Legal Aid Committee (FLAC), an NGO set up in 1991, Mahto has rehabilitated more than 200 women who are now part of a movement called the Superstition Elimination Mission.
“Change is important in society. FLAC gave me a new purpose in life. I don’t have money, but I’ve acquired new resolve now,” she told Arab News.
“The main reason why villagers branded me a witch was that compared to others in the village, we were financially sound. They accused me of being a witch when my parents-in-law passed away, blaming me for their death.”
FLAC founder Prem Chand, 60, told Arab News: “The Jharkhand government passed legislation against witch-hunting in 1999 after our campaign, but the law isn’t enough to fight this social evil. We need greater awareness.”
According to India’s National Crime Records Bureau, around 2,000 people, mostly women, were killed between 2000 and 2012 on suspicion of practicing witchcraft.
Last year, Jharkhand set up special fast-track courts to deal with cases related to the torture and murder of women labeled witches.
“I really want this system of branding a woman a witch to end, but it’s not going away,” said Mahto.
Khalkha said: “I’ll stand witness in court and identify the villagers who’ve been arrested. I don’t believe there’s anything called witches. If witches were so powerful they’d hide from danger, but that hasn’t happened. The women couldn’t hide from their attackers.”


Dozens of casualties reported after Taliban attack on Afghan base

Updated 35 min 43 sec ago
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Dozens of casualties reported after Taliban attack on Afghan base

  • The attack killed as many as 44 Afghan police and soldiers, provincial officials said
  • It is the latest in a series that have killed dozens of members of the security forces in provinces across Afghanistan

KABUL: A Taliban attack on a military outpost in the northern province of Baghlan in the early hours of Wednesday killed as many as 44 Afghan police and soldiers, provincial officials said, as the insurgents kept up pressure on government forces.

There was no immediate comment from the ministry of defense but officials in the area said nine police and 35 soldiers were killed in the attack, the latest in a series that have killed dozens of members of the security forces in provinces across Afghanistan.

The attack came as the situation in the embattled central city of Ghazni eased after the Taliban said they had ordered forces out after five days of fighting that killed and wounded hundreds and left the city a burned-out wreck.

The city hospital was overcrowded with hundreds of wounded people and dozens of bodies and people desperately searching for relatives among the dead and wounded.

The International Committee of the Red Cross said it was providing dressing packages and oral and intravenous medicine to treat wounded at the provincial hospital.

The ICRC also sent fresh water and electricity generators for trauma surgeries and delivered material for the management of remains.

About 20 percent of the population in Ghazni depend on the city water system, which has been down since the beginning of fighting. The ICRC is organizing emergency water supplies by truck to cover the needs of about 18,000 people.

“Some people had managed to flee the city but there were many others trapped in their houses,” said one Taliban commander, who said the decision to pull out was made to prevent further destruction in the city.

“They were facing severe shortage of food and drinking water as the power supply was also suspended to the city two days ago,” the Taliban commander, who declined to be identified, said by telephone.