Witch-hunting cases on the rise in Assam

GUWAHATI: People in the state perhaps still remember the ghastly incident in which 38 people of Shikarigaon, a remote village in Majuli Island, were branded as witches and ostracized by their fellow villagers last year. This was not the last case of witch-hunting in the state.

Last month, an elderly couple from Sapekhaiti village of Udalguri district, were chased out by villagers on a similar charge. Since then, the couple are spending their days in hiding. What is even more strange is that the husband is a former college principal.

Even as the state boasts of making progress on the economic and other fronts, there also many cases of witch-hunting and other superstitious practices that victimize scores of people and even take lives.

According to social activist and general secretary of Brothers, an NGO working against witch-hunting, Dibyajyoti Saikia, at least 20 cases of witch-hunting were reported and five persons killed so far this year.

Saikia said on Saturday that between 2008 to October 2013, 81 people were killed for being 'witches'.

"The superstition of witch-hunting has become a bane for the state. Cases are increasing. Yet we don't have a strong legislation to deal with the superstition," Saikia said.

With the budget session still going on, social organizations have upped the ante for placing a strong bill in the assembly to stop witch-hunting in the state.

"The chief minister had last year promised that a strong anti-superstition legislation would be put in place to fight witch-hunting in the state. But, we are yet to see such legislation. People are being harassed and killed in the name of witch-hunting. Our demand is that the government actively consider placing a bill in the assembly," Saikia said.

Saikia has threatened to agitate from August 25, demanding a strong legislation to fight witch-hunting and other superstitious practices in the state.

He observed that with the passage of time the practice of witch-hunting is becoming more complex with personal enmity and vested interest coming into play.

"There was a time when the majority of the victims were women. For the last seven to eight years, we have observed that 40 per cent of the victims were male. This calls for urgent attention from the government," Saikia added.