GUWAHATI, June 23: Even three years after the Assam Assembly passed the Assam Witch Hunting (Prohibition, Prevention and Protection) Bill, 2015 to eradicate superstition, the law is yet to be enforced in the State, resulting in continuation in the inhuman torture of many innocent villagers in the name of witch-hunting.
The proposed legislation was passed by the Assam Assembly in 2015 making any offence in the name of witch-hunting as non-bailable, cognizable and non-compoundable. Even though the Assam Witch Hunting (Prohibition, Prevention and Protection) Bill was forwarded to the Union Home Ministry by the then Congress government in December 2015, the ministry is still having its reservations on some provisions and clauses of the proposed legislation.
The anti witch-hunting bill has faced hassles at the Centre mainly over the issue of non-application of an anticipatory bail. It proposes to deny anticipatory bail to the accused persons under the proposed Act. Even though the State Home department has been pursuing the issue to clear the Bill at the earliest, it will take more time to get it cleared by the Centre and the President’s node.
The development has come at a time when the State has been rattled by the recent barbaric lynching of two Guwahati-based youths in Karbi Anglong district in the name of superstition. After the lynching incident, Dispur has been seen taking several steps to eradicate superstition from the State. But social activists and experts working in this field are of the opinion that stringent laws will have to be enforced to act as a deterrent against those who are given to superstition.
The anti-witch hunting Bill was enacted after a long-pending demand by activists and after a PIL was filed in Gauhati High Court.
Rajeeb Kalita, a city-based lawyer, had filed a public interest litigation (PIL) in 2013, seeking an anti-witch hunting law. The PIL said when illness, death or financial losses occurred in a family, superstition led many to believe that the cause was evil spells cast on them by others. Those accused of practising witchcraft are often hunted down and ostracized by the community and the village concerned.
The punishment for leading an individual to committing suicide after intimidating, stigmatizing, defaming and accusing him or her as a witch may be extended to life imprisonment, along with a fine of up to Rs 5 lakh under the Assam Witch Hunting (Prohibition, Prevention and Protection) Bill, 2015. It also has provisions for imprisonment up to seven years, along with a fine of up to Rs 5 lakh, for calling a person a witch.
States like Bihar, Odisha, Jharkhand and Maharashtra have anti-witch hunting legislations in place. But the proposed law enacted by Assam is said to be the strictest. But the main question remains as to when the law will be enacted.