Doctorate Degree for Fighting Witch-Hunting in Assam

Written by Samudra Gupta Kashyap

Birubala Rabha, a tribal woman from a remote village in Assam, who has been fighting a tough battle against the menace of witchcraft and witch-hunting for over a decade now, was conferred an honorary Doctorate degree by Gauhati University on Monday. “But more than an honour like this, I want the government to enact a law against witch-craft as early as possible,” she said.

“This is not just a great honour for a village woman like me, but a major recognition to the movement to eradicate witchcraft and witch-hunting, as also to free the rural society from the clutches of sorcerers and others who practice superstitious rituals,” said Rabha, now in her mid-sixties, who is herself an unbelievable story of survival from the grip of witch-craft.

Rabha, who hails from Thakurbhila, a remote village in Goalpara district close to the Assam-Meghalaya border, was honoured with the honorary Doctorate at the 25th convocation Gauhati University by none other than state governor PB Acharya. “As I walked up to the stage amid the applause, I remembered the day a village quack had almost killed my son through black magic. I also remembered another occasion when some fellow villagers wanted to throw me out because I had dared to organize a meeting against superstitions and witch-craft,” Rabha told The Indian Express.

Currently running “Mission Birubala”, an initiative to generate awareness among tribal communities across Assam against superstitions and witch-craft, Rabha has been also pressing the government to come up with a law to tackle witch-craft and witch-hunting. “The government has been talking about a law against witch-hunting for several years now. But I don’t understand what has prevented the government for enacting such a law,” she said.

Two weeks ago the state government had informed the state assembly that at least 77 persons were killed and over 60 injured in witch-hunting incidents in Assam since January 2010. As many as 35 of those killed in the name of witch-hunting were women, the government has said.

The state government had recently also announced that a draft Bill to prevent incidents of witch-hunting and provide protection to persons subjected to atrocities in the pretext of witch-hunting would be soon introduced in the state assembly. The new law would give more teeth to the law enforcing agencies compared to the existing penal provisions to deal with the menace. As per the new law, terming, accusing and causing physical and mental harassment to anybody in the name of being a witch would be treated as a cognizable offence and punishment for the offence would amount to minimum three years of sentence or even to life imprisonment.

Originally posted in The Indian Express