BHUBANESWAR: More than 15 persons have been murdered in Odisha in the last nine months over suspected witchcraft, the latest being murder of three persons of a family in Kitum village under Gunupur block of Rayagada district.
A man, his wife and daughter were injected with pesticides and when they fell unconscious, villagers set them on fire. A similar incident had occurred in August when a 70-year-old man of Chintalugida village in Gunupur block was forcefully fed pesticide and killed.
In fact, Rayagada accounts for seven sorcery-related murders this year while Ganjam and Gajapati districts have witnessed two and three such deaths respectively. Contrary to the belief that such crimes were mostly directed at women, 90 per cent of the deceased persons in these three Southern Odisha districts were men.
In Keonjhar, three persons were killed in January, July and August for allegedly practicing sorcery against their family members. The deceased were Samivari, Champa and Parvati, all elderly women belonging to Munda tribe. The violence does not end there. Many others have been assaulted, their teeth extracted, fed night soil or even ostracised. In Ganjam alone, 19 people have been attacked over sorcery suspicion this year.
Rural parts of the State continue to face witchcraft related violence even after implementation of Odisha Prevention of Witch Hunting Act, 2013. While some cases come to public notice, many others go unreported. Despite sensitisation drives by Crime Branch of the State Police, awareness on sorcery related violence is low in Rayagada, Ganjam, Keonjhar and Mayurbhanj districts that report the highest number of sorcery deaths and attacks.
Lack of awareness coupled with a deep-rooted belief in witchcraft and absence of healthcare facilities have only worsened the problem. According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) report, Odisha accounted for 26 cases of murder due to sorcery suspicion of the total number of 133 cases in India in 2015. However, sources in State Police said 60 such cases were registered last year.
State Information Commissioner, Sashiprava Bindhani, who had filed a PIL in the Orissa High Court in 2011 to bring an end to the evil practice, said it is high time reasons leading to sorcery related killings are analysed properly. "Usually, persons who are committing these crimes are arrested but villages in these high prevalence districts have a powerful group of villagers who are the actual abettors. This influential section of the village brand a person as a sorcerer and illiterate people are provoked which lead to a fatal attack. They, however, never get arrested and the incidents continue," she said.
Special DG (Crime) Bijay Kumar Sharma said a sensitisation camp will be organised next month by Crime Branch on the Odisha Prevention of Witch Hunting Act for field officers, who will act as 'messengers' of police and inform them about sorcery-related incidents happening in villages. From every district, two field officers will attend the sensitisation camp. Ever since the law was passed, awareness camps are being regularly organised, he added.