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Witch-hunting in tribal Odisha / Black magic, superstition and Indian politics (Reports from Mail Today)

18 March 2015

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Mail Today also via Daily Mail 16 March 2015

Witch-hunting on the rise in Maoist-hit Odisha as tribal districts cling to superstition

by Rakesh Dixit

Witch-hunts and superstition-related crimes are on the rise in some of the Maoist-affected districts in Odisha, despite the state being one of the few in the country with a law to curb such offences.

Last month, police arrested 23 people, including three women, in Mayangi village of Ganjam district for assaulting 35-year-old Mitu Swain and feeding him excrement.

The assailants had accused Swain, who sustained head injuries, of practising witchcraft.

Members of the Dongria Kondh tribe perform rituals on a woman believed to be a witch. Women remain worst-affected by the act of witch-hunting across the state

Mitu, who claims he knows nothing of witchcraft or such esoteric rites, lives in constant fear of being hounded out of the village.

A similar incident took place in Olapur village of the district on January 18 when eight people, including two girls, were fed excrement and had their teeth pulled out by a mob that accused them of indulging in sorcery.


Lack of education and healthcare has made tribal-dominated districts more vulnerable. However, such incidents have also been reported from the prosperous coastal belt that has a better literacy rate.

Last October, a couple in the tribal-dominated Keonjhar district were murdered for allegedly practicing black magic. The deceased, Mangala Munda (58) and Sukramani Munda (52) from Kolahundula village under Joda Police Station, were hacked to death with an axe.

Incidentally, three members of a family were killed for similar reasons in this district in 2009.

Tribal-dominated Sundergarh, Mayurbhanj, Keonjhar and Sambalpur districts are among the worst hit by crimes related to superstition.

In May 2010, a local court in Sambalpur awarded the death sentence to a 53-year-old tribal, Rajesh Hembram, who attacked his 10-year-old granddaughter with an axe, under the superstition that her death would bring him a good harvest.

A so-called ’witch’ being ’cured of evil possession’ during a ceremony

Such court verdicts notwithstanding, tribals remain in the grip of witchcraft and sorcery. Soon after Hembram’s conviction, 40-year-old Baidei Patra was beaten up and paraded naked in her village of Sundergarh district bordering Jharkhand.

The men who humiliated and tortured Patra for allegedly being a witch were arrested.

While Sundergarh has recorded 38 superstition-related deaths in the past one decade, Mayurbhanj and Keonjhar have accounted for 19 and 13, respectively.

In 2010, a case was reported in Abhaypur village, about 30 km from Cuttack, in which three tribal youths allegedly chopped off the head of Bajru Hembram (60), suspecting him to be a witch doctor and holding him responsible for the death of a villager who had succumbed to brain malaria. They even displayed the severed head in the village.

Most of the victims of such brutality are women. In 2004, the state witnessed a furore when Newni Ekka, a mother of four from Tainsar village in Sundergarh, was forced to eat human excrement and paraded naked on the village streets with her hair cut, after claims her “black magic” had left some children ill.

In another incident, Duleswar Barik, a tribal, butchered all six members of his family in Alapaka village of Sundergarh. Duleswar later claimed that he was acting under divine instructions.

Police efforts

Sundergarh police have tried debunking the superstitious myths through camps organised by rationalists and scientists. But there has been no perceptible change in the superstition-related crime graph.

Noted sociologist Rita Ray said: “There is an urgent need for strict implementation of law, but it is important to launch a mass awareness campaign.”

Mayurbhanj district collector Rajesh Prabhakar Patil said: “We are preparing audio visual clips to educate people apart from setting up youth groups to highlight the ill-effects of superstition.”

Tribals prepare for a ritual

New legislation fails to change ground realities across state

By Rakesh Dixit in Bhubaneswar

Barely anything has been done on the ground to clamp down on witch-hunting in the state even as the Odisha Prevention of Witch-hunting Act, 2013 became enforceable in February 2014.

The Act empowers the government to organise awareness programmes against superstition and witch-hunting.

Even policemen lack awareness on the issue. The first step towards sensitising policemen was taken on March 10, when the crime branch organised a special training programme to tell the men in khaki about the Act’s provisions and highlight the gravity of the problem.

The state police’s rank and file participated in the programme held in Cuttack — the state police headquarters.

“We need to educate our personnel not only about the law but also on the ways to handle such crimes. We are also preparing a blue print to create awareness in the affected districts which will be submitted to the state government soon,” said B.K. Sharma, additional director general of police, crime branch.

Last year, Odisha Rationalist Society had filed a PIL in the high court, alleging that witchcraft-related offences persisted in the state even after the new Act due to lack of preventive measures.

The PIL petition had sought the court’s direction to the state government to undertake awareness campaigns at village level by involving NGOs, teachers, students and the mass media.

It had also sought special investigation teams and special courts for such cases.

There is a further demand for health care facilities, especially for tribal areas, as lack of health infrastructure made it easy for witch doctors to thrive.

However, Debendra Sutar, the NGO’s secretary, feels that the government has hardly done anything to create awareness among people or to implement the law strictly despite the PIL.

“Till date even rules under the Act have not been framed. The government has taken no steps for awareness. On our part, we have organised a few programmes,” said Sutar.

Odisha’s law against witch-hunting

Odisha is one of the few states in the country to have a law against witch-hunting. The Odisha Prevention of Witch-hunting Bill, 2013 was passed by the state Assembly in December 2013 before becoming an Act in February 2014.

It describes witch-hunting as an act of omission, commission or conduct on the part of any person identifying, accusing or defaming a woman as a witch, or harassing, harming or injuring such a woman mentally or physically or by damaging her property.

Odisha is one of the few states in the country to have a law against witch-hunting

Every offence under the Act is cognisable and non-bailable. Under the law, anyone indulging in an act of witch-hunting, or abetting or provoking such an act could be punished with a prison term extending up to three years and a fine of no less than Rs 1,000.

Similarly, anyone who forces a woman, while branding her as witch, to drink or eat any inedible or parades her with her face or body painted, or commits acts derogatory to human dignity, or displaces her from her house, will be punished with a jail term of no less than one year, which may extend to five years along with a fine.

The law also empowers the state government to chalk out schemes to create awareness against blind beliefs and evil practices like witchcraft.

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Mail Today

How black magic and vaastu play a dominant role in Indian politics

by Arvind Gowda Bengaluru, February 18, 2015 | UPDATED 11:19 IST

That superstition is integral to Karnataka politics has been proved yet again with the Janata Dal (Secular) allegedly performing black magic to invoke a curse on the ruling Congress before handing over the party head office it had occupied in the heart of the city for the last three decades to India’s Grand Old Party.

On Monday, when Congress party workers entered the premises, they were horrified to find lemon, chilly, vermilion and unknown materials wrapped in red cloth. They were scared to enter the building till it was "purified". The previous night, the JD(S) had vacated the building after losing it in a protracted legal battle to the Congress.

The Congress directly pointed fingers at the Janata Dal (Secular) supreme leader H.D. Deve Gowda, who allegedly patronises black magic. However, Gowda was quick to dismiss the allegations. A section of the Congress party is now planning a puja to nullify the effect of the alleged black magic on the property.

This is not for the first time that the JD(S) leaders have been accused of performing black magic. When B. S. Yeddyurappa was the CM, he alleged that there was threat to life from the JD(S), as it had performed black magic on him! "Historically, black magic, superstition and Vaastu have been integral to Karnataka politics. Several leading politicians and CMs have tried to please the Dark Lord through pujas," said political historian A. Veerappa.

In other states also, superstition and politics have often gone hand in hand. It is not known whether Haryana’s current chief minister is superstitious or not but BJP workers in black clothes were not allowed to enter the venue on October 26 last year when Manohar Lal Khattar was being sworn in as chief minister. BJP workers were told to remove the black clothes as they were ’unlucky’. Current Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh and former CM Prem Kumar Dhumal have one thing in common. Both are superstitious.

Both stick to their lucky numbers five and nine. Both take into consideration their respective lucky numbers while taking important decisions. The vehicles owned by both have numbers five and nine respectively. They even conduct important meetings on these dates.

In Maharashtra, Mohan Rawale, Senior Shiv Sena leader and fivetime MP from Mumbai always wears a yellow shirt during election campaigning. This he did on the advice of an astrologer. Rawale followed the advice so strictly that once when his campaign posters wearing shirts of other colours were printed he recalled about 1.5 lakh posters. Ashok Chavan, former CM of Maharashtra, had changed his name to Ashokrao Chavan on the advice of an astrologer. During difficult times in his tenure, he had invited Putaparthi-based Sathya Sai Baba to CM’s bungalow in Mumbai. Although the chief ministers of Uttar Pradesh have been boasting of developments in Noida, most fear going there.

Photos: Mail Today

The belief is that they lose their chair if they visit Noida. Although CM Akhilesh Yadav has inaugurated many developmental schemes for the city, he has done so from Lucknow.

Telangana Chief Minister K. Chandrasekhar Rao is known to be a staunch believer of Vaastu. The CM has changed his official residence twice and is now planning to shift the state secretariat.

Rao has also appointed an official Vaastu consultant for the Telangana government. IN BIHAR, RJD president Lalu Prasad does not mind wearing his superstitious beliefs on his sleeves. From relocating the swimming pool inside his bungalow to visiting holy men and tantriks, Yadav has often, if not always, taken recourse to such means to build his fortunes.

On Dussehra senior leaders in Madhya Pradesh, like Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan and former chief minister and Uma Bharti, perform tantric rituals to ward off the evil eye.

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The above articles from Daily Mail and Mail Today are reproduced here for educational and non commercial use