Anima Basumatary contemplated killing herself last January after people branded her a witch and threatened to bury her alive.
The 41-year-old was saved by the timely intervention of her husband and two daughters.
But she still shudders to recollect how fellow villagers in Goalpara district turned against her. “I never imagined I would be branded a witch...It felt committing suicide was the only way of escaping such shame and a torturous death,” the Bidhan Nagar village resident said.
A woman Basumatary’s husband was in a relationship with had accused her of being responsible for a bout of sickness. A local witch doctor corroborated the accusation.
A belief in the occult for anything from failed crops, disease or death leads many in Assam to blame the events on someone, who is branded a witch and excommunicated, beaten and even killed.
The malaise has claimed 116 lives between 2006 and 2015. More than half the victims are women.
Assam’s legislative assembly passed a bill to prohibit witch hunting last August. The bill made the offence non-bailable and stipulated a punishment of up to life imprisonment and fines ranging from Rs 50,000 to Rs 5 lakh. But the bill is yet to become a law.
Assam is witnessing a tight election, with incumbent Congress chief minister Tarun Gogoi aiming for a fourth term and the BJP – in alliance with the Asom Gana Parishad – looking to come to power for the first time.
But all major political parties are silent about the issue in their poll promises.
“It is frustrating that political parties don’t think of witch hunting as a major issue even though it is linked to lack of education, poor healthcare and poverty etc,” said Natyabir Das, a doctor involved with Mission Birubala.
While major parties have distanced themselves from the issue, United Peoples’ Party, a new party active in the Bodo-dominated areas of Assam, mentions the need to make the law more stringent in its manifesto.
Hira Rabha, a 35-year-old housewife held responsible for mass hysteria in Lela Baniapara village and branded a witch allegedly over a land dispute wants politicians to act fast. “Unless there is a move to turn the bill, more people will fall prey to witch hunting,” she said.