Last Saturday a man was beaten up and battered around at a village in Balangir district as he was suspected to be practising witchcraft. The illness of some people in the village was linked to his suspected witchcraft and a kangaroo court decided to punish him. The poor man was dragged out of his house, beaten with sticks and made to drink urine. The superstitious villagers also shaved his head.
This is not an isolated case. Many such incidents have been taking place in different parts of the state, especially in the tribal-dominated districts where belief in black magic and sorcery still remains high, primarily owing to lack of education. Sometime ago people had watched the bizarre spectacle of a black magician trying to revive a dead woman, a victim of snakebite, near the morgue of Padampur sub-divisional headquarters hospital in Bargarh district. The victim’s family had tremendous faith in the abilities of the sorcerer who expectedly failed in his mission.
But what is worse is the violence associated either with such practices or against them. For example, a few years ago a young college-going student in western Odisha was allegedly killed by her friends in the fulfilment of a bizarre religious ritual. The accused were the fanatic followers of a cult. In yet another incident, a six-year-old girl in Balasore district was kidnapped and her wrist was slashed to drain blood for goddess Kali’s supposed appeasement.
On the other hand, there are incidents of even old women like Newni Ekka of Sundergarh district being attacked by fellow villagers and relatives on the suspicion of practicing witchcraft. A majority of such cases have been reported from tribal-dominated districts such as Sundergarh, Keonjhar and Mayurbhanj. Most of the victims of violence are women.
However, the situation is now beginning to change. The state police, apparently acting under the instructions of Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, who also holds the home portfolio, is cracking down on such crimes in a big way. The cops have been invoking the provisions of Odisha Prevention of Witch Hunting Act, 2013 to book the offenders and punish them. The provisions of the Act may also be invoked in the Balangir case where the district superintendent of police has assured action against the guilty.
At the same time, it is equally important to launch a mass awareness drive against such superstition-fueled violence. Long back this was done in Sundergarh district in the wake of a spate of cases of violence against women suspected to be witches or witchcraft practitioners. The district police had taken the help of rationalists to debunk the myths created by black magicians locally known as “disasris” and had tried to make people aware of the disastrous consequences of violence stemming from superstition. The same kind of awareness drive needs to be launched across the state to support the good work being done by the police to stop such crimes.