TEZPUR, Sept 6 - The northern belt of Sonitpur district, starting from Mazbat (bordering BTAD and Sonitpur districts) to Gohpur area, presently populated by tribal people particularly the Bodos, Adivasis, Misings, Karbis and the Nepalis, has till date witnessed many incidents of witch hunting and the consequent harassment upon many innocent people, including the recent Misamari and Bhimajuli (Biswanath Chariali) cases.
Reports say that in the last 10 to 15 years, more than 15 people have died in witch-hunting incidents. Though following persistent efforts of various organisations like the ABSU, AASAA, Karbi Students� Union, TMPK etc., social and educational changes have been witnessed among these tribal people, witch hunting is still prevalent among the backward sections of the above-mentioned communities in the northern part of Sonitpur district, who are deprived of modern health services and health awareness programmes even today.
In yet another incident of witch hunting case at No. 1 Bhimajuli under Biswanath PS, one Puni Orang was lynched recently by enraged villagers. Most interestingly, one Anima Ronghangpi of the same village, who considered herself a goddess and played the role of a fortune teller in the area, passed a message among the illiterate people residing there, that the people of the area are suffering from different diseases only due to the witchcraft practised by Puni Orang. The illiterate people dragged the �witch� to a nearby river bank and inhumanly lynched her, evoking sharp condemnation from conscious sections of the society. The body of the victim was later recovered by the police, who also arrested the accused involved in the incident.
The most regrettable thing is that though we claim to live in a society having scientific temper, but there are still scores of people who believe in superstitions. In this incident, nearly 100 people, who were arrested by the police on charges of killing the woman, confessed that they had done a good job by finishing a �witch�, as for them she was the responsible for all the bad things in their society.
During a recent visit to Sengelimara and Tharabari areas under Chardwar PS in Sonitpur district, this correspondent accompanied by social and human rights activist, Dibyajyoti Saikia found that in 2009, a woman named Anima Basumatary of Ganeshpur under Chardwar PS was killed by villagers on charges of practising witchcraft, and other family members were allegedly evicted from the village. In this case though the police arrested the accused, yet in the absence of a strong Act against such a crime, the victim�s family is yet to receive proper justice and the accused can be seen moving about openly in the area. A local ABSU worker, Madan Basumatary, said that in 2013, a Head Master of Gerguajuli LP School, Bhrigu Basumatary, was allegedly tortured by the local people on charges of practising black magic. One of the local villagers who didn�t wish to be identified said that Bhrigu cannot go to his home even now as the incident still haunts him. �Nowadays, he is seen loitering in the area and suffering from stigma and loneliness, as he has become homeless after the incident. His family members have fled from the area.�
Unveiling the mystery behind the incident, the villager said that as an outcome of the persistent efforts of Bhrigu Basumatary, after a long time, the school (Gerguajuli LP School) of which he was deservedly the head master got provincialised, and to capture his post and get other government facilities, usually allotted to a government LP or ME School like funds for construction of building, Mid Day Meal, free uniforms etc., some unscrupulous people planned to eliminate Bhrigu Basumatary from the area.
�In this manner, many witch hunting cases have been witnessed in this Bodo-dominated area, either for land or for personal enmity. This eventually has led to many people of the community converting to Christianity also,� he stated.
Likewise in 2014, one Gomail Daimary, who used to give herbal medicines to people was rescued from the fury of a group of �witch hunters�. Records says that one of his neighbours was suffering from severe gastroenteritis, following the the preparation of spurious country liquor. However, instead of taking her to the doctor, the family members started blaming Gomail saying that the woman�s condition had deteriorated only because of his practising witchcraft upon her. However, the situation was brought under control by the initiative of ABSU worker Madan Basumatary.
As the area is malaria prone and other diseases also break out frequently, people fall sick and as they are unaware of the modern methods of health and hygiene, they go to the local �bez� or a person supposed to have magical powers, who convinces the people that the disease has been caused by some evil spirit controlled by a man or a woman. Such a man or a woman suspected of practising witchcraft, is considered to be a ban omen for the whole community and the people try to inflict harm upon him or her.
The local people of the area, different organisations including the ABSU, AASAA, AATSA, Boro Sahitya Sabha etc., are of the opinion that lack of health services, awareness among the people on the issue and about the modern world, the lackadaisical attitude of both the police and the civil administration and lack of education and literacy are the major reasons behind the prevalence of witch hunting. It needs mention that modern facilities like road communication, schools and colleges, hospitals, electrification, safe drinking water etc., are still a far cry in the area. Even in the 21st century, health service is a pipe dream for the people of these areas. Many people still embrace untimely death following malaria or other water-borne diseases because of the absence of hospitals or medical facilities. The PHCs or hospitals at Chardwar, Rangapra, Dhekiajuli, Batachipur or in Mazbat cannot reach the people living in these remote areas. As going to these hospitals or private nursing homes becomes unaffordable for these poor people, they are quite reluctant and accept untimely death. Till date, several women have died in maternity cases on way to the aforementioned hospitals.
Dibyajyoti Saikia, who is involved with the anti-witch hunting movement, told this correspondent that this is a social problem which misguides the mindset of the whole community. Stressing on a major role by the social organisations in this direction to free the people from superstitions, he alleged that leaders of many organisations are seen getting involved in witch hunting instead of eradicating the problem from the society. He also pointed out that religious leaders, student organisations etc., should play a vital role in this context. However, Saikia is optimistic enough that if the anti-witch hunting Bill tabled in the State Assembly is implemented properly, cases of witch hunting will definitely subside.