JHARKHAND: Within weeks of her father-in-law suffering a paralytic attack, Anjelina Aind, was branded a witch by her in-laws. The tribal woman from Ronhe Tetartoli in Torpa, Khunti district, Jharkhand, was not allowed to enter the house and had to take refuge with her sister, living in the same village. Instead of buckling under the mental strain, the 29-year-old was fortunate to come across a way to stand up against the harassment and ridicule and help other women in the state branded like her.
“My situation became more difficult as other villagers joined my in-laws. This continued for a few years. One day, I saw a nukkad natak (street play) conducted by a few women to create awareness against witchcraft. I approached them reluctantly and explained my condition. They promised help,” says Aind.
The women belonged to a self-help group (SHG) with the Jharkhand State Livelihood Promotion Society (JSLPS) under The Garima Project. The SHG identified her as a victim of social evil. As a victim, she could connect with the subject matter, and worked hard, and earned ‘Grade A’ during a six-day training in conducting nukkad natak, which she says, “changed my life”. “Now, I lead a team of 10 women working towards eradicating social evil,” said Aind.
Initiatives by JSLPS
Aind’s group visits villages and conducts surveys to locate women ostracised by society after being accused of practicing witchery. After identifying such women, Aind’s group provides them psychosocial counselling to regain lost confidence, and assistance to lodge FIRs in case the villagers continue to torment them. Aind’s team was formed only four months back, and already they have successfully rescued 10 victims.
Additionally, the group organises nukkad natak, gram sabha meetings, and coining anti-witchcraft slogans to end superstition and belief in the dark arts. “After a nukkad natak is over, we administer a pledge among the viewers that they will never torture anybody in the name of witchcraft. In between the plays, we make them aware of the provisions of law under which anyone can be arrested if found indulging in branding people and other such activities,” says Aind.
JSLPS area coordinator Priyanka Topno says sometimes professional art therapists are also roped in to help the victims come out of trauma. “A case in point, Anjelina drew a painting of a woman trying to break the chains she was bound to and fly in the open sky. This was highly appreciated,” says Topno, who adds the painting was displayed at a recent exhibition organised for creating awareness against witchcraft.
JSLPS CEO Nancy Sahay says over 1,000 women, who are repeatedly tortured for practising witchcraft, have been identified in the state under the Garima Project. “We are trying to create a model of witchcraft-free panchayats under the project and have identified those women. We would ensure they are brought back into the mainstream,” said Sahay. We also offer legal support, psychological counselling and training for various livelihood opportunities,” she added.
Sahay says the project began in April 2020 at the behest of Chief Minister Hemant Soren, aims to eradicate the social evil from the state by March 2023. It has identified a total of 2,068 villages in 342 gram panchayats from 25 selected blocks of Bokaro, Gumla, Khunti, Lohardaga, Simdega, West Singhbhum and Latehar.
Personal life back on track
Karuna Hembrom, 56, one such victim from Manmani village, has been experiencing immense relief and gratitude. “Anjelina didi rescued me when she learned about my agony. Through street plays and meetings against the social evil, she dissuaded the villagers from harassing me. After her intervention, one man was sent to jail after an FIR was lodged against him for thrashing me badly in the name of witchcraft.”
After her involvement with The Garima Project, Aind’s personal life saw a pleasant turnaround. Her in-laws and villagers have accepted her back. Recently, she and her husband were invited to a feast organised on the occasion of a house warming ceremony, informs Aind, happily.
Road map in place
Jharkhand State Livelihood Promotion Society (JSLPS) has identified a total of 2,068 villages in 342 gram panchayats from 25 selected blocks of Bokaro, Gumla, Khunti, Lohardaga, Simdega, West Singhbhum and Latehar