Jharkhand woman gets Padma Shri for saving women branded as witches
Chhutni Mahato, 62, has rescued over a hundred women branded as witches in Jharkhand since she survived a murder and rape attempt 25 years back after she too was called a witch. She has now been conferred with Padma Shri, the country’s fourth-highest award, in recognition of her work.
“Congratulations to all for it would not have been possible for me alone to save and rescue 125 people mostly women from getting killed on charges of witchcraft and partially rehabilitate them to live normal lives. I never even dreamt of getting such an honour in my life as only celebrities and film stars used to get such an award. I thank Narendra Modi for finding people like me from the remotest corners of the country for such national honour,” said Mahato.
She added the award has strengthened her resolve to fight against the practice. “...17 women and men came to me after escaping murderous assaults on January 1 from Odisha on charges of practicing witchcraft. The police station in-charge there pleaded his inability to act in such socially volatile matter...” she said.
Mahato was married off at 13 in 1978 when she was in Class 3. Her life changed completely in March 1995 when some of her neighbours attempted to rape her accusing her of practising black magic after a girl fell sick in their neighbourhood. “Panchayat fined me ₹500. Six months later, the villagers beat me and tried to kill me. I fled,” she said. Mahato rushed to the local lawmaker’s house for help and shelter but in vain. She then approached the police, who demanded ₹10, 000 for lodging a case.
Bureaucrat Nidhi Khare helped her by sending her to an NGO working to root out witch-hunting practice in Jharkhand. “The then West Singhbhum deputy commissioner Amir Khare helped me set up anti-witch-hunting consultation centre, which has so far saved 125 so-called witches,” said Mahato.
A documentary was made on her struggles in 1996 and how she was fighting the menace and helping others. Bollywood film Kala Sach – The Dark Truth was made on her life in 2014.
According to National Crime Records Bureau data, 575 women have been lynched after branding them witches in Jharkhand between 2001 and 2019.