Haunting tale of Assam’s Witch-hunt: 7 arrested for beheading woman; lack of stringent law worries activists


Shamim Zakaria

After a 60-year old woman was stripped and later beheaded by a mob branding her a witch in Bhimajuli village of Assam’s Sonitpur district on Monday, police today arrested seven persons in connection to the heinous crime.

However, the most startling repercussion of the entire episode came when villagers gathered in large numbers and surrounded the police station to register their protest against the arrests.

One of the protesting villagers demanded an answer as to why only seven persons were nabbed when the entire village was involved in the incident. “Our entire village that is close to 200 people participated in the sacrifice of that witch, then why police have arrested only seven inhabitants? If they want to arrest then the entire village should be behind the bars,” said the villager.

Another villager said the beheading was completely justified as even after repeated warnings the deceased woman had indulged in the practice of black magic time-and-again.

The bizarre happening in Vimajuli village of Assam took place about 40kms from the Biswanath Chariali police station and 110km from Tezpur, the headquarters of Sonitpur district. The victim named Poni Orang, a mother of five was dragged out of her house, stripped and lynched near river Dhul.

According to Biswanath Chariali’s additional superintendent of police, Samad Hussain, one Anima Ronghanti, a self-styled goddess informed the villagers that Orang was a witch and would bring bad omen to the village. She then instigated the villagers to immediately kill her.

The horrendous incident has yet again augmented the debate on the dearth of any law to curb the menace of witch-hunting.

“Pertaining to a PIL filed in 2013 seeking an anti-witch-hunt law, the hon’ble Guwahati High Court passed its verdict in favour of the draft bill, but the government is yet to make it a law,” said Anjuman Ara Begum, a Guwahati-based human rights activist.

She added that as of now since there is no separate law to deal with witch -hunting, it gives enough elbow room to the perpetrators of the crime.  She also mentioned about the absence of any standardized government program to educate the mass about superstitious beliefs like witch-hunting. “Though the Assam Police have dedicated community service programs to educate and endeavour at uprooting evil practices like witch-hunt, unfortunately no such schemes exist on part of government,” said Anjuman Ara Begum.

She also mentioned proximity as another factor responsible for such crimes. “Since witch-hunting mostly takes place in remote rural areas, away from the hullabaloo of the city, nobody is really concerned about its prevention. Also, these issues are therefore never raised with much audacity in the parliament,” added Anjuman Ara Begum.

It may be mentioned here that replying to an RTI application submitted to SPIO of the Home Department on March 13 this year, the Assam Police declined to share information on witch hunting in the state, citing an exemption provision for its CID wing. However, Parliamentary Affairs minister, Government of Assam, Rockybul Hussain on March 23 had informed the House on behalf of the Home Minister that at least 77 persons had been killed and 60 others injured in witch-hunting incidents across Assam since 2010.

The gruesome incident of beheading has sent shock ripples across the state. Biswanath area’s superintendent of police Manabendra Rai has meanwhile informed the media about deployment of adequate police force in the village to prevent any further untoward situation or communal backlash.