Not superstition but land and personal grudges, are killing Adivasi women in Jharkhand in the name of witch-hunting
Sept. 7/2008/ASIANAGE/Sahibganj, Jharkhand: Not superstition but land and personal grudges, are killing tribal women in Jharkhand in the name of witch-hunting. This age-old custom of branding women as "witches" is now being used by men to grab land from widows and also to settle personal scores. And if these "witches" are young, they are more likely to become human trafficking victim.
Salomi Pahadi of Dehla village in Sahibganj district in the state was branded a "witch" by fellow villagers after her husband Sukra Pahadi died. She was mercilessly beaten up along with her two daughters. Her body still bear marks of that gruesome incident.
"It was very late in the night when we heard loud noises. As I opened the door, I was pushed and thrown on the ground. It was very dark and I could only hear these men shouting daayan hai maar daalo (She is a witch. Kill her)," said this 45-year-old woman of Paharia tribe. Mother and her two daughters were then tied by a rope and thrown in nearby forest area.
"They (some of the villagers) wanted my land (around eight bighas) which I had refused," said Salomi, who was then rescued by her relatives. She had to leave the village and take shelter in another village nearby. Though the police arrested eight men in the case, only three were awarded minor punishment. But the incident has turned this illiterate tribal woman who was once "completely dependent on men folks of her family" assertive. She has taken full control of her land, which she tills with the help of her son-in-law.
Social workers say superstition is only an excuse in most of these cases. Women, mostly from poor and illiterate tribal families, are branded "witch" because of various reasons — land grabbing, family rivalry, settling scores or even as a punishment for spurning sexual advances. They are also branded as witches for refusing to abide by social norms.
Paku Himro of Khirjokhal village was branded "witch" by her own brother-in-law when her husband Jata Soren and some villagers fell sick. She was blamed for using black magic on them. "My brother-in-law thrashed me when my husband was taken to hospital by other relatives. He threw me out of the house because I had once objected to his tilling our land," said Paku, who then took help of local police.
Despite a law banning witch-hunting, such cases are common in this state which has considerable number of tribal population. Unofficial estimates show more than 300 witch-hunting cases have been reported in the last seven years, including those where these "witches" were killed.
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