Crusade against withcraft by street plays in Jharkhand

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Ranchi, March 7 (ANI): A non government organization and a group of tribals in Jharkhand capital Ranchi are spreading awareness through street plays as part of their crusade against the persecution of women, who are usually branded as witches and often experience harrowing times.

The Free Legal Aid Committee (FLAC), the NGO, and some tribal women who have fallen victims to this stigma, have jointly launched this campaign. These people stage plays in remote parts of Jharkhand and educate local residents against the strange practices.

Sunita, a young tribal woman, suffered public humiliation and physical suffering when a member of her family was accused of being a witch and put through the trauma of ostracism.

Today, as part of this awareness group, she says that by dramatizing their persecution, they seek to reach out to the villagers.

"This play is a true story of me and my family. My grandmother suffered a lot because the villagers branded her a witch. The people have tried to kill our family members. They have tried to shoot my uncle with a gun. Our family has suffered a lot for the last fifteen years," said Sunita.

Ajay Kumar, Director of FLAC, said the number of those killed for practicing witchcraft was on the rise.

"If you see the 1991 to 2000 police statistics, 522 murders have taken place on this (witchcraft) count, and if we go by the statistics gathered by our social workers working for the uplift of these villagers, 670 women have lost their lives to witch-hunts," said Kumar.

Notably, so serious is the problem in some rural parts of the country that certain states have promulgated laws against witch-branding and witch-hunting.

In 1999, the Central Government passed a law, which came to be known as the The Prevention of Witch Practices Act. The law proposed an imprisonment of six months and a fine of 2,000 rupees (44 dollars) on the person found guilty of torturing innocent women. The law has been adopted by many states but has failed to act as a deterrent.

Due to poor development, education and modern amenities, the tribals are steeped in superstitions, and beliefs in sorcery and witchcraft run high, passing on for generations.

According to human rights activists, at least 1,500 women have been killed in the last ten years for being accused of witchcraft.

While cases of women practicing occult is known, in most cases innocent women are branded as witches and subjected to torture and are even killed. At times, the so-called witches are paraded naked publicly or socially boycotted.

Analysts blame illiteracy for such cases of tortures against women in the state. By Girija Shankar Ojha (ANI)

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