Odisha Sun Times Bureau
Cuttack, Mar 10:
The Crime Branch of Odisha Police today organized a workshop to create awareness among social activists, women’s commission members and Odisha police about the anti-witchhunt Bill and contain cases of killing of suspected practitioners of witchcraft in the state.
“We have organized this workshop to create awareness about the problem among the stake holders. There is an anti-witchcraft legislation in force since February 2014. However, we get to see that police officers are still not aware about it,” said Bijay Kumar Sharma Additional DG of Crime Branch.
“Every year we see crimes related to witchcraft, more so in rural areas. We want the policemen to be aware so that cases can be registered. We have called all the professional bodies working on it and police officers from every district for the workshop today,” Sharma added.
“Witchcraft exists because awareness is missing. This workshop will hopefully prepare policement at the ground level to deal with cases of witch hunt more effectively,” said Sashiprava Bindhani, social activist.
A total 11 districts of the state continue to witness killing of suspected practitioners of witchcraft. Mayurbhanj sits at the top of the heap with 61 such cases between 2005-2014, followed by Malkangiri, Sundargarh and Rayagada.
While there were 17 witchcraft related cases recorded in the state in year 2011, 12 cases came to fore in 2012, 13 in 2013 and 18 in 2014, which was the highest number in the past four years.
Thirty one women in the state were killed after being branded witches in 2010, 39 in 2011 and 35 in 2012 forcing the state to enact ‘Odisha Prevention of Witch-Hunting Bill, 2013’. The Odisha High Court had also directed the state government to enact such a law in 2012.
The assembly, in a bid to protect women from being branded witches through the prevailing hunting and other similar practices, passed the law that provides for minimum punishment of one year and maximum imprisonment of up to five years and penalty.
Even though the state was the fourth state in the country after Bihar, Chhattishgarh and Jharkhand to have special legislation against the practice of witch-hunting, lack of awareness meant that ground conditions remained almost the same.
As Sujata Jena, a lawyer who participated in the workshop put it, “Law alone can’t change the situation. The perception needs to change among the public to get rid of this superstition.”