16 January 2020
Banai: Bandhini Oram, a middle-aged woman had gone to visit her daughter in Tikiraposh village under Banai police limits. Little did she know that it would be her last visit? After having dinner, she was warming herself near the bonfire late in the night when her daughter’s brother-in-law Ratikant Oram attacked her with a sharp weapon killing her on spot. He was of the opinion that Bandhini was a witch and taught the nuances of sorcery to her daughter too.
When he hacked mercilessly, a one and half-year-old infant also got injured as the others watched him do the act. He fled the spot after the heinous act. The police reached the spot and took the murder weapon into possession. The infant was rushed to a hospital in Rourkela.
Many cases have been reported in the State despite it being one of the few in the country with stringent laws to curb such offences. Most of the victims of such brutality are women as the tribal belt still cling to superstition inspite of several awareness programmes by the authorities.
Just a few days back in January 2020, a youth was arrested by Mayurbhanj police for killing a man over ‘sorcery’ practice. There were many such deaths reported last year.
In January 2019, the murder of a woman and her four minor children in Sundergarh sent chills all across the State. Three persons barged into their house and brutally killed all the 5 inmates of the house.
In February 2019, three members of a family including two women were allegedly beaten to death using a log and later their bodies were set ablaze suspecting them to be practicing sorcery. It occurred in Ukambaguda village under Gunpupr police limits, Rayagada.
In June 2019, two sorcery related death were reported from Rayagada district.
In October 2019, a couple disappeared in Mayurbhanj district mysteriously and their daughters alleged that they might have been killed over alleged witchcraft as some people had attacked them few days back over the same fact.
In November 2019, a man was beheaded in Saurashai under Mohana police limits of Gajapati district over suspicion of practising witchcraft.
In many cases, the villagers thrash the victim, or parade them naked, even tonsure them or force them to eat excreta as a punishment. These cases draw attention to the way superstions rule the lives of tribal people in the State.
The local word ‘dahani’ is labelled to woman who is suspected to have cast an evil eye when diseases such as malaria or diarrhoea claim lives in villages. It is then that the villagers decide to get rid of the ‘witch’ by either punishing her or killing her.
This problem exists due to the compounding of poverty, superstition, illiteracy and lack of proper healthcare facilities. Tribal-dominated Sundergarh, Mayurbhanj, Keonjhar and Sambalpur districts are among the worst hit by crimes related to superstition.
The authorities have initiated many awareness campaigns to debunk the superstitious myths through various camps but the ground reality remains that the witch hunting still continues unabated.
Even new legislation has failed to deter such incidents. Odisha is one of the few states in the country to have a law against witch-hunting. The Odisha Prevention of Witch-hunting Bill, 2013 was passed by the state Assembly in December 2013 before becoming an Act in February 2014.
Every offence under the Act is cognisable and non-bailable. The law also empowers the state government to chalk out schemes to create awareness against blind beliefs and evil practices like witchcraft. It is high time for not only strict implementation of law, but also important to launch a mass awareness campaign to eradicate this social evil.