The centuries old crime of killing women after branding them as “witches” is continuing in Jharkhand. Weak implementation of the law, unchallenged superstitious beliefs and land disputes are at the centre of these murders.
Last Sunday, four members of a family were hacked to death by two brothers. According to police, the two — Shyamlal Munda and Ram Singh Munda — entered the victims’ house in the early hours and killed Jinkaru Mundain (75), her daughter Soru Mundain (55) and two sons Ghasia Munda (50) and Hagal Munda (40).
The incident took place at Sosokada Tola under Kuchai Police station area of Seraikela-Kharswan which is around 130 km from Ranchi.
According to police, Shyamlal’s one-year-old son had died few days ago. He claimed the victims had used “black magic” against his son causing his death. After the killings, Shyamlal and his brother took the head of the elder woman to the police station and owned up to the murders.
Such killings are not uncommon. On August 8 this year, five women were brutally murdered at Mandar situated on the outskirts of Ranchi. More than 30 people, including youths, were arrested for the crime. Some of the arrested youths were college going students, who said they had no regrets over killing the women as they were “witches”.
The Jharkhand government had formulated an anti-witchcraft law in 2001 and had set up a special investigation team to look into the killings.. Yet, every year 30 to 50 women are killed after being accused of “practising witchcraft”. Social workers here say the 2001 law is extremely weak.
“There are several reasons for these killings. The 2001 law is weak and added to that are land disputes,” Vasvi a social worker and former member of the Jharkhand Women Commission told IANS.
She said the law needs to be amended to provide for stricter punishment. “There is no punishment for ojhas (sorcerers) who instigate people to kill women. There should be a witchcraft prohibition centre in each district. The cases of witchcraft should be registered separately in police stations and fast track courts should be instituted for speedy trial of the cases,” Vasvi, who uses only one name, said. According to Vasvi, the reason behind Mandar killings was clearly a land dispute.
The law provides for punishment of three to six months imprisonment in case a woman is branded a witch or tortured after being accused of practicing witchcraft. The state women s commission had recommended several changes to make the law stricter but the state government is yet to act on them.
The Jharkhand Women Commission and social workers say that in view of the weak law and patchy implementation, they find themselves helpless in curbing the incidents.
“We have to work to improve the quality of education among people. Even some degree-holding youths are involved in such incidents which indicate the lack of quality education,” said Mahua Manjhi, chairperson of the commission.
According to official figures, 44 women were killed after being “branded witches” in 2014. This year, the number has already touched 46 so far. Since the law was passed, more than 500 women have been killed in this manner.