Assam gets a stringent law to fight witch-hunting

The Act views witch-hunting as a cognisable, non-bailable and non-compoundable offence. It was passed by Assam Assembly in 2015 with provisions of jail term up to life imprisonment. 
 

Published: 16th July 2018 05:35 PM  |   Last Updated: 16th July 2018 10:44 PM   |  A+A-

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Express News Service

GUWAHATI: Activists in Assam, fighting for years to create awareness against witch-hunting, are ecstatic as President Ram Nath Kovind has given his assent to the Assam Witch Hunting (Prohibition, Prevention and Protection) Act, 2015.

The Act views witch-hunting as a cognisable, non-bailable and non-compoundable offence. It was passed by Assam Assembly in 2015 with provisions of jail term up to life imprisonment. 

Witch-hunting, a social malaise, claims scores of lives in Assam’s tea belt and tribal areas every year. The killings have not stopped despite mass awareness campaigns by the state government and various NGOs.

Birubala Rabha, who has been tirelessly fighting against witch-hunting since 1980s and is now a household name in the state, said a stringent law to fight the menace was long-felt.

“I am very happy that the President has given his nod to the Act passed by the Assam Assembly. Superstitious beliefs often lead to killings of innocent people. I am sure the law will help curb the incidents. People will be afraid of taking lives for the fear of being punished,” Rabha said. She also said that she would continue her fight against witch-hunting.

Assam’s Director General of Police (DGP), Kuladhar Saikia, told TNIE that it was felt by different stakeholders that the existing legal solutions needed further teeth to weed out the menace of superstitious beliefs.

“Though such cases were registered and investigated mostly under IPC offences, some of the dimensions of the offences required a broader approach, thus calling for a separate legislation,” he said.

Back in 2001, Saikia had conceived “Project Prahari”, an initiative to fight witch-hunting. He was then serving as a DIG in Kokrajhar, a district where incidents of witch-hunting are common.

“Project Prahari tried to bring in different stakeholders together to give a common platform to fight against the problem. This was the first coordinated approach to prevent witch-hunting. Under this, we are now working in more than 100 tribal villages. The Project Prahari programme was later a case study in Harvard Business Review. This is an important case study with the police as a changed agent,” the DGP added. 

The Assam Witch Hunting (Prohibition, Prevention and Protection) Act says no person shall identify, call, stigmatise, defame, accuse any other person as witch by words, signs, indications, conduct, action or any other manner or instigate, aid or abet such an act or commit witch-hunting.

Last year, the Gauhati High Court observed that branding a person as a witch and then resorting to witch-hunting was a dehumanising act and one of the worst forms of human rights violations. Disposing of a criminal appeal filed by three persons, a two-judge division bench had observed that the menace had to be confronted at multiple levels.

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