GUWAHATI: Two women in Assam were brutally beaten up by tea garden workers who branded the duo as witches.
As their assailants have threatened to kill them if they return to the garden, the victims, Maloti Bhumij and Rajmoni Bhumij, were taking shelter at a police station.
The incident took place on Friday evening at Hooloonguri Tea Estate in Upper Assam’s Jorhat district.
The police registered a case under Sections 448, 352, 506 and 120b of IPC against three women who allegedly instigated a mob to perpetrate the attack. The police also slapped a relevant Section of Assam Witch Hunting (Prohibition, Prevention and Protection) Act, 2015.
According to locals, the victims in their fifties had gone somewhere and they came under the attack when they were on their way back home at Tekela Line of the tea garden. On seeing them disorganized with mud all over their clothes which were also torn, the assailants suspected them to be witches.
When words spread in the garden about the movement of two witches, dozens of people thronged the area leading to the assault. Later, the police rescued them from the spot.
Witch-hunting, a social malaise, claims several lives in Assam’s tea belt and tribal areas every year. The incidents have not stopped despite awareness campaigns by the state government and some NGOs.
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The Assam Witch Hunting (Prohibition, Prevention and Protection) Act, 2015 views witch-hunting as a cognizable, non-bailable and non-compoundable offence. Passed in 2015, the Act has provisions of jail term up to life imprisonment.
Back in 2001, Assam’s Director General of Police, Kuladhar 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 the menace. This was the first coordinated approach to prevent witch-hunting in Assam.