Odisha needs plan to stop ‘witch’ hunts

A fresh dataset compiled by rationalist thinkers says at least 606 people were brutally killed in the state in the name of witchcraft over the last 11 years, which translates to over 50 such murders every year.
Image used for representational purpose
Image used for representational purpose

Three-fourths of witchcraft-related murders in India are reported from just four states. According to the National Crime Records Bureau, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Odisha take the top slots in that order, accounting for 66 out of the 85 such murders logged in 2022. The official number is just a tip of the iceberg. In Odisha, for example, NCRB puts the number of murders at 10; however, a fresh dataset compiled by rationalist thinkers says at least 606 people were brutally killed in the state in the name of witchcraft over the last 11 years, which translates to over 50 such murders every year.

In an age where the downside of artificial intelligence is debated with frenzy, superstition continues to kill. Most of it comes from the usual suspects: the tribal hinterlands. All the states that continue to report such brutal violence have sizeable tribal populations. Tribal-dominated areas are marked by poor human development indicators—access to healthcare and education top the list of critical challenges in these regions where quacks reign supreme. In Odisha, 67 percent of the murders triggered by witchcraft suspicion are reported from seven such districts.

Despite efforts to generate awareness against superstition, brutalities continue in the name of witch hunting. In January, a 55-year-old tribal man of Malkangiri district was allegedly murdered by two young people including the victim’s cousin. Analysis reveals that almost a fifth of such murders are carried out by relatives and a majority of the perpetrators are from the same community. The state government brought in the Odisha Prevention of Witch Hunting Act 2013 a decade ago, but its impact has not been encouraging, as the numbers would vouch.

Though the law came into existence, the administration failed to frame the rules and finalise a dedicated scheme. Seven years back, a composite action plan was devised and departments were asked to take action, but the response has been lukewarm with no budgetary heads created for the purpose. Much as the spate of witchcraft-related violence warrants vigorous awareness campaigns, the government has to go beyond perfunctoriness and launch targeted intervention in regions afflicted by the malaise. It must come up with a specific plan that acts as a deterrent, because the law alone has not gone far in stopping such violence.

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