Five fast-track courts in as many Jharkhand districts will deal exclusively with cases related to torture and murder of women branded witches out of superstition or malice, officials said on Tuesday.
Several survivors formerly labelled witches and NGOs battling to end this social curse said the move was welcome but its impact would be limited as over 60% such cases went unreported.
The state law department published the notification in a March 2 gazette for setting up of fast-track courts in Ranchi, Chaibasa, Khunti, Palamu and Simdega to ensure speedy trial and disposal of such cases. The notification came into effect on Tuesday, March 8.
“The courts will be under the judgeship of judges in the rank of additional sessions judge with jurisdiction within the local limits of the districts concerned. This has been done in consultation with the high court and the process of appointing judges and other logistics would start soon. Government’s objective is to expedite trial in all such cases and speedy disposal to send a strong message,” BB Mangal Murty, state law secretary, told HT.
Free Legal Aid Committee (FLAC) – an NGO fighting the “witch-hunting” menace in the state since 1991 – president Prem Chand told HT that the fast-track courts were a baby-step and limited to a post-incident role.
“This will help victims and their families in cases that have come to the courts. But the problem is over 60% cases still go unreported and never come to a court. Then finding witnesses is also a major problem as this menace has social sanction. Take the instance of killing of four people in Kiriburu (West Singhbhum) on December 30 last year. It came to police on January 15 only after media reported it -- even family members were not ready to talk,” Prem Chand said.
He urged the government to think of how to abolish the practice and view it as a social menace more than a criminal one. “Awareness and mental empowerment is the only way to combat such killings effectively,” he added.
Survivors of attacks said more such courts should be set up. “Such courts should be in all 24 districts. My Seraikela-Kharswawan district is equally notorious for witch killings. Only on January 17, a woman from Ichagarh had come to me faced with a death threat after being branded a witch. The Ichagarh police did mediate a compromise agreement but the officer-in-charge didn’t sign or put a police seal on it,” Chhunti Mahato, 57, a survivor told HT on Tuesday.
“Moreover, the government should help and strengthen the NGOs and people fighting this menace on the ground. I will meet the CM and say that making tribal and backward societies aware of the superstitious belief is necessary to prevent a repeat of such incidents,” Chhutni, who has rescued 40 women so far, said.