GUWAHATI, Oct 23 – Investigation into nearly 15 per cent of the ‘witch-hunting’ cases registered in Assam since 2008 had met with a dead end. Police, putting their hands up, submitted the Final Reports (closure) of these 15 per cent cases stating that no accused could be identified.
Of the 85 cases (approximately) registered with the Assam Police since 2008 till March, 2014, investigation ran into the wall in 12 such cases with no culprit identified. Moreover, investigation is pending in nearly 20 per cent of such cases of resorting to mindless acts on allegations of witchcraft.
Significantly, as many as ten districts of Assam, including Kamrup, Nalbari, Goalpara, Sivasagar and Udalguri, besides others have shown an upward trend in ‘witch-hunting’ cases since 2011. However, of the 80-odd cases, police did file chargesheet in 53 cases of attack/murder on allegations of practising witchcraft and also arrested over 500 suspects in connection with the total cases registered.
Since 2008, the most number of cases were registered in the year 2011 when 29 cases of ‘witch craft’ were registered with the Assam Police.
According to the State Government records, between 2005 and May, 2013, altogether 66 women have been killed in the name of witch hunting and of the 105 cases, the highest numbers of 29 cases were in 2011 and in Kokrajhar alone, there were 20 such cases.
Two recent incidents of violence on allegation of practising witch craft has brought to the fore new ramifications in the rising trend, which till recently were reported in tribal areas. The latest incident in which veteran athlete Debajoni Bora became a victim in a naamghar itself, raised a number of eyebrows.
Recently, the family members of PK Basumatary, a retired principal of Udalguri College had to flee their house after locals/miscreants, mostly from the town area, threatened to get offensive against his wife on the allegation of practising witchcraft after a community meeting. Recalling the dark episode, Basumatary, a resident of Udalguri, told this reporter that “It was an unfortunate incident and hope that such episodes are not repeated.”
With Assam still to enact a law against acts of torture and murder in the name of witch-hunting, the intent of government agencies has also attracted sharp criticism. Official sources informed that although a drafting committee was constituted by the Assam State Commission for Women and a draft bill named ‘Bill Conferring Right to Protection Against Witch-Hunting’ was submitted to the Government (Social Welfare Department) vide letter No. ASCW-9/2012/8 dated 2/6/2012, the matter remained under the carpet.
Moreover, four destitute homes for women located in Jalukbari, Nagaon, Dhubri and Boko are also believed to be in a bad shape.
Civil rights lawyer BD Konwar, who has been closely monitoring the developments (PIL number 98/2013) said, “There is a wrong message going from even the educated people living in urban areas. Animal sacrifice in the name of gods and goddesses in temples (tantrikism) is giving a wrong impression to the uneducated and vulnerable sections of the society.”
He said in the latest case of Debajoni, police has registered the case under Section 143 and 325 of the IPC, which are both bailable sections. “I do not understand why Section 354 which relates to outraging the modesty of a woman was not referred to the case. The acquittal/bail of the accused is bound to create a feeling of insecurity in the minds of the victim,” the senior lawyer added