Assam activists vow to end witchcraft

IRNA, Aug. 28, 2002

Guwahati, Aug 28, IRNA — Women activists in India’s northeastern state of Assam Wednesday pledged to end frequent killings and attacks on people suspected of practicing witchcraft and sorcery in the region.

A middle-aged tribal Adivasi Santhal couple was the latest in a series of gruesome killings in western Assam’s Kokrajhar district, 250 kilometers from the state capital Guwahati. The tribal couple was lynched in the village Lapatigaon, near Kokrajhar, over the weekend after a group of local villagers suspected the duo of practicing witchcraft.

“The villagers justified the killing saying the couple, with the help of black magic, was spreading disease among the people which has led to the death of one of them,” a local villager who identified himself as Joyram said. Witnesses said a group of men, armed with machetes and spears, lynched the couple at night.

Up to 70 people have been killed in parts of Kokrajhar and Sonitpur districts in the state during the past two years as they were suspected to be practicing witchcraft.

“This is one of the worst social evils afflicting the tribal society where people, especially women, were made targets of some ridiculous superstitious beliefs,” Kanan Basumatary, general secretary of the All Bodo Women’s Welfare Federation, a powerful rights group, told IRNA. “Superstitious beliefs are so deeply rooted in our society that it is very difficult to stymie the heinous killings, inspired by superstitious beliefs. To eliminate this social crime would take time,” she said. Basumatary herself escaped death while she was a teenager with some villagers planning to kill her on suspicion of being a practicing witch.

Women rights groups have launched a campaign in remote villages where the practice of sorcery is very common among the tribal communities. “We are drumming up public support in our fight against age-old superstitious beliefs like witchcraft that lead to frequent killing in our society,” says Pramila Brahma, a tribal Bodo woman legislator. Superstitious beliefs, black magic and demonology are integral to the tribal custom. The majority of tribal Bodos practice an indigenous religion called Bathow, believed to be a mix of black magic and superstition which is used in curing ailments or casting evil spells on adversaries.

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Religion News Blog posted this on Thursday August 29, 2002.
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