CUTTACK: The Orissa High Court has held that various laws at the state-level have failed to check witch hunting in the country because of the absence of a central legislation.
The HC said that the practice of witchcraft and sorcery continues to be prevalent in many states as the absence of a central legislation has resulted in lack of uniformity in the application of law across the country.
The HC said that the provisions of the Indian Penal Code, although applicable for the crime associated with the menace, have not proved to be as effective in deterring these criminals.
While rejecting bail pleas of two persons accused of witch-hunting and killing a woman on Monday, Justice SK Panigrahi of the High Court said that enactment of several legislations at the state level to put an end to witchcraft and sorcery in recent times indicates that the society is surprisingly still afflicted by such mindless and absurd practice.
"The pattern of the perpetrators of the crime, sought to be curbed by the legislations, it appears, has a lot of similarities and the uneducated and economically weaker sections end up being their soft targets. The need to generate awareness among such susceptible sections of people, therefore, assumes importance and the concerned authorities may have to take effective steps, in this regard, to dispense with such primitive beliefs and mindsets, which defies logic," Justice Panigrahi said.
The judgment said witch hunting is still prevalent in Jharkhand, Bihar, Haryana, West Bengal, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Odisha, Chhattishgarh, Assam, Rajasthan and UP and said as per the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) records, more than 2,500 victims were tortured and killed in witch hunts between 2000 and 2016. Witch hunting abounds with stigmatization of specific groups of people including widowed women and children of lower caste.
Justice Panigrahi said, "Crimes such as witch hunting shock the collective conscience of the communities who are mostly tribal and backward people of our society. Experience has shown that the faith of these otherwise naïve populations is exploited by charlatans who stifle the voices of the victims, brandishing the sword of supernatural fear."
"Thus, in such cases the courts need to be cognizant of the ground realities and the skittish mindset of persons subject to such atrocities. Such crimes need to be dealt with an iron hand and the message needs to go out loud and clear that courts sternly frown upon such crimes," the HC judge said.