Assam's Crusader Against Witch-Hunts Gets Much Needed Recognition From the UNHRC

ABDUL GANI
Friday, April 21,2017

GUWAHATI: Assam’s anti-witch hunting crusader Birubala Rabha who has single-handedly been fighting to eradicate superstition from society will be speaking at the Witchcraft and Human Rights Experts Workshop at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland.

The 68 year old Rabha who hails from a tiny sleepy village named Thakurvilla along the Assam-Meghalaya border in Assam’s Goalpara district is elated after getting the invitation. She thinks that this recognition by the UN body might help her decades old work for eradicating this slur that has targeted women in particular.

Assam is one of the worst hit areas in the country where hundreds of people, both men and women have been targeted over the years in the name of practicing witch craft.

The WHRIN is a response to the wide-spread violations of human rights that take place around the world due to the belief in witchcraft and spirit possession. It works to enable greater understanding and awareness of these complex issues so that solutions can be developed to prevent further violations of human rights from taking place.

“Having been an admirer of your work for some time now, I am hopeful that you may be able to attend the event and I very much look forward to meeting you in Geneva,” Gary Foxcroft, the executive director of WHRIN wrote in the mail to invite Rabha.


The event will bring together UN Experts, academics and members of civil society to discuss the violence associated with such beliefs and practices and groups that are particularly vulnerable.

It will highlight the various manifestations of witchcraft beliefs and practice, including accusations, stigma, and ritual killings, before looking to identify good practice in combating such practices. The meeting will also be an opportunity to discuss whether current legislative frameworks are sufficient to meet State legal duty to prevent, punish, investigate and provide remedies for harm caused by beliefs in witchcraft.

“This is obviously a great opportunity for us to raise the issue at the global platform. I think I will be able to depict the real picture there. I desperately hope it does help in bringing a change. The bottom line is the act has to be brought in and the government has to play a role,” Rabha told The Citizen.

Rabha along with her Mission Birubala have long been demanding for an act to mete out strict punishment to the offenders in a bid to make the society free from such ill-practices.

Assam Witch Hunting (Prohibition, Prevention and Protection) Bill 2015, supposed to be the strictest of its genre in the country, was passed in 2015 and was forwarded to the union home ministry for its approval. However, it is yet to get the green signal.

“The bill has not yet been cleared mainly over the issue of non-application of an anticipatory bill. It proposes to deny anticipatory bail to the accused persons under the proposed act. We are still awaiting clearance from the Centre. We will pursue the matter again as the state has reported several such cases in the past few weeks,” the state home commissioner LS Changsan was quoted as saying by The Telegraph in a recent report.

In the year 2014 a veteran athlete of the state -- Debojani Bora in Karbi Anglong district was tortured in the name of practicing witch craft. Though the 34 year old lady escaped death she had to be hospitalized. In 2013, altogether 38 people from a remote village in Majuli were labeled ‘witches’. However, they were rescued by police, Birubala Rabha and others.

State government data says that till March 2015, altogether 77 people were killed and 60 other injured in ‘witch hunting’ incidents since 2010.

More than 100 people have been killed in Assam from 2005 to 2014, according to a study conducted by an NGO. It says more than 500 such incidents related to witch hunting during the last 10 years.

“There are very disturbing figures. Even I myself faced a similar kind of situation. We must stand united to wipe this out from our society for a better and healthy future,” said Rabha.

She believes that a section of influential people also sometimes instigate similar action on older people to grab their land and properties.

Rabha was even given death threats for her involvement in this mission but she has never shied away. “All this makes me more firm and stronger. I will keep on fighting till my last breath. I fear no death,” she said.

The event which is being organized by the Witchcraft and Human Rights Information Network (WHRIN), the UN Independent Expert on human rights by persons with albinism, Ikponwosa Ero and Lancaster University in the UK, is scheduled to be held on September 28 and 29.



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