VARANASI: It is impossible for Jagesari Devi (32), a tribal woman of Sonebhadra district, to forget the fateful day when she became a victim of witch hunting and her tongue was chopped off. She was branded a ‘dayan’ (witch) by a local ‘ojha’ (sorcerer). Though her wounds have healed, the scars remain forever. The unforgettable nightmare has rendered the Holi festival colourless for her.
“Am I really a dayan,” wonders Jagesari, wife of Ramashankar and a native of Karahiya village under Dudhi police station in Myorpur Block of Sonebhadra district. Following this inhuman act of others, today she can neither speak properly nor can eat or drink with ease.
In her testimony to a human rights organisation, Peoples Vigilance Committee on Human Rights (PVCHR), she narrated her ordeal with the hope to get justice.
The daughter of her brother-in-law Sahdev died due to illness on August 1, 2010. When she went to his house to condole the death, she saw that a local sorcerer was also present there. He started claiming that Jagesari was a dayan and had caused the death. Soon, the orthodox people were supporting the man who chopped off her tongue in punishment. She cried out for help, but no one heard her cries. Somehow, her husband managed to rush her to a hospital for treatment.
“After being labelled a witch and facing physical torture and social humiliation, how can she be expected to lead a normal life?” questioned Lanin Raghuvanshi of PVCHR. The PVCHR, in association with the Rehabilitation and Research Centre for Torture Victims of Denmark, organised a programme of public hearing recently in the city to hear the story of Jagesari and other such victims of witch hunting. The volunteers tried to document the cases of witch hunting in remote villages of Sonebhadra.
According to Raghuvanshi, poor and low-caste women are easily branded as witches, mostly in tribal areas. The woman once branded a witch finds it impossible to get rid the stigma. She is subjected to violent acts like physical torture and social humiliation, even to the extent of being stripped naked.
Manbasia (45) is another woman who has been subjected to inhuman ordeal in Ghaghari Tola Sahgora village, under Babhani police station, in Myorpur block of Sonebhadra district. After the demise of a boy in the village, she was not only attacked with sharp weapons but also paraded naked in public on July 17, 2010. “I was not a dayan, then why was I paraded naked?” she questioned. Her husband Jodhilal said he had to mortgage his land for his wife’s treatment.
However, officials of both police stations categorically denied that such cases had ever taken place in their respective areas. Both Vijaymal Singh Yadav, inspector of Dudhi police station, and Asharam Goyal, inspector of Babhani police station, when contacted over phone on Thursday told TOI that they had no information about witch hunting or practice of witchcraft in their area. However, in another case of witch hunting, a woman Somari Devi (40), wife of Dinesh Gond and native of Baliyari village under Dudhi police station, was also humiliated on January 14, 2011. A local native after branding her a witch, pushed her into fire. Her saree was burnt, however, her husband saved her. In her testimony, she alleged that the police did not register her complaint. Instead of punishing the culprit, the police let him off scot-free, she said.
Raghuvanshi says there are many factors responsible for the prevalence of witch hunting. One of the reasons is socio-economic. Generally witch hunters do so for property (grabbing) reasons. Sometime women become victims for refusing sexual advances. But, in most of the cases, women suffer because they are unable to get any help from the society. “Most of the cases go unreported,” he said and added “police do not play a positive role in stopping harassment of women in the name of witchcraft practice.”