Guwahati: Assam has a proliferating culture of Witch-Hunting. Witch-Hunting also exists in the other parts of India, like Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Bihar, Maharashtra, and Rajasthan, and these states have already criminalized such kind of practices. It was in the mid-2000s that activists, social workers and NGOs began to take cognizance of this problem. Between 2001 and 2017, reports state that there have been 193 witch-hunting deaths; 202 registered cases; and 931 arrests made. The most primitive intensive move to fight this practice was “Project Prahari”, which was launched by police officer Kuladhar Saikia, the current DGP of Assam. Today, around hundred tribal villages in Assam are under Project Prahari, which is currently also used as a case study by the Harvard Business Review. “Implementation of a legislation is definitely an important task for the police, but one must remember that social practices like witch-hunting based on superstitious beliefs are to be countered socially,” said DGP Saika. Members of the civil society and police are now working towards spreading awareness about the new law throughout rural Assam.
A tribal villager from Goalpara, Birubala Rabha, independently started raising her voice against the practice after being registered as a witch herself in 2005.
“We are confident that the law will go a long way in curbing this practice,” says Rabha. As per the Assam Witch Hunting Act, culprits can face up to 7 years and a fine of up to Rs five lakh. “Our awareness camps will try to impress on the villagers how wrong this practice is. Most of the people directly involved in the crime are usually illiterate. The masterminds who plan it are the real perpetrators. They are the ones who need to be put to task,” says Dr. Das. He also added, “There’s a death every month, and many go unreported.” Till date, the law sights witch-hunt killings as murder cases. “A separate legislation facilitates creation of separate data on witch-hunting cases distinctively different from other IPC offences,” says Saikia, adding that, “Finally, people will now recognize it as a social menace that can be fought through the new legislation backed by social awareness.”