A barely literate, 62-year-old woman is one of the prime architects of the country’s most stringent laws against witch-hunting enacted by Assam.
The 126-member Assam assembly on Thursday passed the Prevention of and Protection from Witch Hunting Act, 2015, which is aimed at curbing a social evil afflicting the state.
Birubala Rabha, a tribal woman from the remote Thakurbhila village in western Assam’s Goalpara district, has been crusading against witch-hunting after a village quack almost killed her son in 1996. She did not budge despite being threatened with excommunication.
She built up a team and rescued more than 50 women from being branded as witches and killed before launching Mission Birubala, an awareness campaign against witch-hunting.
“We have been fighting for a strict law to discourage witch-hunting, which often has to do more with family and property disputes under the veneer of superstition. This Act should have come earlier, but it is better late than never,” Rabha told HT.
In April, the Gauhati University had awarded her an honorary degree in recognition of her campaign against witch-hunting.
“This Act will help in proper documenting of witch-hunting offence, ensure a focussed investigation and higher rate of conviction. It will be a preventive mechanism and help identify the role of the community, since it is a community-based crime though personal designs are also seen,” said Kuladhar Saikia, additional director general of police who had launched Project Prahari in 2001 to create social awareness against witch-hunting.
In Assam, men too are branded ‘witches’ and killed or maimed.
Earlier this year, the Assam government informed the assembly that at least 77 persons – 35 of them women – were killed and more than 60 injured in witch-hunting incidents in the state since January 2010.