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Govt apathy delays anti-superstition Bill

By Staff Reporter

GUWAHATI, July 22 - As another gruesome incident of witch-hunting rocked Sonitpur district recently, the much anticipated anti-superstition Bill, entangled in government formalities, does not seem to be inching forward.

The wait for an Act against superstitions in Assam may get prolonged due to the Government�s alleged apathy and the lack of timely intervention by the departments concerned.

Social activist Dibyajyoti Saikia, who has been engaged in campaigning against malpractices like witch-hunting and related violence, said that if the draft of the Anti-Superstition Bill is not sent to the Assembly before August 1, the Bill would not be placed on the floor of the House in the next Assembly session starting from August 10.

Saikia, who is camping at Bhimajuli in Biswanath Chariali, where a 60-year old woman was beheaded by a mob on the allegation of practising �black magic,� said the State cannot afford ignoring such incidents any further.

The supporters of the Anti-Superstition Law are pinning their hope on its early enactment to control superstition-related violence in the State, the major one being witch-hunting.

�Though the draft of the Bill has been prepared, it is yet to be sent to the Assembly. Lack of swift action by the government departments concerned may result in another setback to the proposed Act,� said Saikia, secretary general of the voluntary organisation, Brothers, which has been leading a campaign in favour of a strict anti-superstition law in the State.

It may be noted that States like Bihar, Odisha, Jharkhand and Maharashtra have already enacted anti-witch hunting legislations.

�Apart from bringing untold suffering to the affected people, such incidents malign the image of the State to a great extent. Since 2001, more than 300 people have been affected by superstition-related violence in the State. More than 180 people have been killed brutally in the name of witch-hunting. Unfortunately, in several such incidents, the assailants take advantage of the illiteracy and ignorance prevalent in the backward areas to settle personal scores,� added Saikia.

Following the intervention of the Gauhati High Court and pressure from several social organisations, the Government of Assam prepared the draft of the Bill that was submitted to the court early this year.

�We have been demanding an anti-superstition law in the State since 2011. In the subsequent years, the State Government was pressurized to bring a Bill in the Assembly. The Bill could not come up during the Budget Session of the Assembly this year due to the Government�s apathy despite the fact that the Chief Minister himself had assured us about introducing the law,� Saikia said.

Meanwhile, more cases of witch-hunting were reported from different parts of the State. On July 1, a 48-year-old woman, Kave Rahangpi, was killed at Baithalangso in Karbi Anglong.

�The State�s Education and Health departments are also to blame for such incidents as the lack of proper awareness about medical treatment leads to such superstitious beliefs. Students must be taught about superstitious beliefs prevalent in the society so that the next generation develops a rational and scientific temperament,� the activist added.

The anti-superstition draft Bill, prepared by the Assam Government, proposes punishment from three years to life imprisonment.

Apart from stricter punishment for terming someone a �witch� and inflicting physical, sexual or mental torture leading to suicide and displacement, the Prevention of and Protection from Witch Hunting Bill, 2015, Assam, aims to check illegal practices by quacks. It also proposes action against negligence in investigation, formation of special courts for trial of witch-hunting cases and free legal aid to victims.

�The provision for life imprisonment in witch-hunting cases is the strictest so far,� Baibhab Anand, a lawyer associated with the New Delhi-based Human Rights Defence International, said. The rights group has been lobbying for a national law to check witch-hunting as at least 12 States have the problem.

The Assam Home Department submitted the draft Bill to the Gauhati High Court on Monday following the court�s instruction during the hearing of a PIL. Rajeeb Kalita, a city-based lawyer, had filed the PIL in 2013, seeking an anti-superstition law since over 130 people have died in such attacks in at least 17 of the State�s 27 districts since 2002.

The PIL said superstition leads many to believe that �evil spells� cast on them by others is the cause for illness, death or financial loss.

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Govt apathy delays anti-superstition Bill

GUWAHATI, July 22 - As another gruesome incident of witch-hunting rocked Sonitpur district recently, the much anticipated anti-superstition Bill, entangled in government formalities, does not seem to be inching forward.

The wait for an Act against superstitions in Assam may get prolonged due to the Government�s alleged apathy and the lack of timely intervention by the departments concerned.

Social activist Dibyajyoti Saikia, who has been engaged in campaigning against malpractices like witch-hunting and related violence, said that if the draft of the Anti-Superstition Bill is not sent to the Assembly before August 1, the Bill would not be placed on the floor of the House in the next Assembly session starting from August 10.

Saikia, who is camping at Bhimajuli in Biswanath Chariali, where a 60-year old woman was beheaded by a mob on the allegation of practising �black magic,� said the State cannot afford ignoring such incidents any further.

The supporters of the Anti-Superstition Law are pinning their hope on its early enactment to control superstition-related violence in the State, the major one being witch-hunting.

�Though the draft of the Bill has been prepared, it is yet to be sent to the Assembly. Lack of swift action by the government departments concerned may result in another setback to the proposed Act,� said Saikia, secretary general of the voluntary organisation, Brothers, which has been leading a campaign in favour of a strict anti-superstition law in the State.

It may be noted that States like Bihar, Odisha, Jharkhand and Maharashtra have already enacted anti-witch hunting legislations.

�Apart from bringing untold suffering to the affected people, such incidents malign the image of the State to a great extent. Since 2001, more than 300 people have been affected by superstition-related violence in the State. More than 180 people have been killed brutally in the name of witch-hunting. Unfortunately, in several such incidents, the assailants take advantage of the illiteracy and ignorance prevalent in the backward areas to settle personal scores,� added Saikia.

Following the intervention of the Gauhati High Court and pressure from several social organisations, the Government of Assam prepared the draft of the Bill that was submitted to the court early this year.

�We have been demanding an anti-superstition law in the State since 2011. In the subsequent years, the State Government was pressurized to bring a Bill in the Assembly. The Bill could not come up during the Budget Session of the Assembly this year due to the Government�s apathy despite the fact that the Chief Minister himself had assured us about introducing the law,� Saikia said.

Meanwhile, more cases of witch-hunting were reported from different parts of the State. On July 1, a 48-year-old woman, Kave Rahangpi, was killed at Baithalangso in Karbi Anglong.

�The State�s Education and Health departments are also to blame for such incidents as the lack of proper awareness about medical treatment leads to such superstitious beliefs. Students must be taught about superstitious beliefs prevalent in the society so that the next generation develops a rational and scientific temperament,� the activist added.

The anti-superstition draft Bill, prepared by the Assam Government, proposes punishment from three years to life imprisonment.

Apart from stricter punishment for terming someone a �witch� and inflicting physical, sexual or mental torture leading to suicide and displacement, the Prevention of and Protection from Witch Hunting Bill, 2015, Assam, aims to check illegal practices by quacks. It also proposes action against negligence in investigation, formation of special courts for trial of witch-hunting cases and free legal aid to victims.

�The provision for life imprisonment in witch-hunting cases is the strictest so far,� Baibhab Anand, a lawyer associated with the New Delhi-based Human Rights Defence International, said. The rights group has been lobbying for a national law to check witch-hunting as at least 12 States have the problem.

The Assam Home Department submitted the draft Bill to the Gauhati High Court on Monday following the court�s instruction during the hearing of a PIL. Rajeeb Kalita, a city-based lawyer, had filed the PIL in 2013, seeking an anti-superstition law since over 130 people have died in such attacks in at least 17 of the State�s 27 districts since 2002.

The PIL said superstition leads many to believe that �evil spells� cast on them by others is the cause for illness, death or financial loss.