The State Government is giving final shape to a legislation which will take on the bizarre practice of witchcraft, widely prevalent in the rural pockets and is growingly seen as a crime against women. The law proposes punishment not only for those who perpetrate severe atrocities on the “witches,” but also on those who prescribe it through various means.
The draft legislation, prepared by the Crime Branch of the State Police, was presented before Chief Secretary B K Patnaik recently and certain changes have been proposed. It will now be sent to the Law Department for its consideration before being placed at the State Cabinet.
In rural Odisha, instances of women facing humiliation and brutalisation after being branded as “witches” are dime a dozen. The practice of sorcery, a type of witchcraft, is to identify the “witches” and prescribe cure as well as remedy which ends in violence in most cases.
The proposed law views perpetration of atrocity and abuse against the “witches” as a cognisable offence, non-bailable in nature. Sources said the draft law proposes punishment in three categories. The first group is those who identify the “witches.” Commonly known as “ojha” or “gunia,” this set of people are the first perpetrators of the violent crime and will receive a punishment of 1 year or Rs 5,000 fine or both.
The second category is the one who cures or provides remedy for the “witches” and basing on their prescription, the women are meted out horrible atrocity. This set of the people will get three years in prison or Rs 5,000 fine or both. The third group is the common people who inflict physical and mental torture and they too will be punished with three years in jail or Rs 5,000 as penalty.
The law, seen as a progressive legislation, will not be limited to witchcraft alone. The draft expands its coverage to various forms of sorcery such as “totka” and “khata bidya” which is widely prevalent in Nayagarh, Ganjam, Balasore and other parts of the State.
“Though the existing provisions of the Indian Penal Code covers the offence, the specific legislation will give it more teeth and help prevent the practice,” Additional Director-General of Crime Branch Bijay Sharma said.
The Chief Secretary is believed to have suggested that the legislation should not only prescribe enforcement, it must help build awareness on the subject through help of panchayati raj institutions and sensitisation camps.
The move for the legislation was initiated after a direction from the Orissa High Court to the State Government following a writ petition filed in 2011 by social activist Sashi Prava Bindhani, who had appealed that States such as Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Jharkhand and Bihar have specific laws to prevent the practice.
The High Court had also issued guidelines pending the formulation of the law.