Odisha Sun Times Bureau
Bhubaneswar, Jul 14:
The gruesome killing of six members of a tribal family, including a three-year old girl, in Keonjhar district on Sunday night has turned the spotlight back on a problem that has bedevilled tribal Odisha for ages now: witch-hunting
It was only the latest, though among the most ghastly, in a series of such incidents that are as commonplace in tribal areas as deaths due to malaria.
The figures are chilling: no less than 541 persons have been killed on suspicion of practicing witchcraft in just the last 14 years.
Of them, 274 have been murdered in the last five years alone while 267 have met the same fate from 2001 to 2009. This suggests that far from coming down with the spread of education and awareness, incidents of witch-hunting are actually on the rise in Odisha.
Going by year-wise statistics, 30 persons were killed in 2001, 39 in 2002, 26 in 2003, 22 in 2004, 25 in 2005, 36 in 2006, 28 in 2007, 23 in 2008, 38 in 2009, 56 in 2010, 72 in 2011, 52 in 2012, 42 in 2013 and 52 in 2014.
Out of 17 tribal-dominated districts of the state, six districts— Keonjhar, Rayagada, Koraput, Ganjam, Gajapati, Sundargarh—witness such incidents at regular intervals. However, the incidence is the highest in Mayurbhanj, which accounted for 61 murders in the last 10 years from 2005 to 2014.
According to Sudhanshu Sekhar Dhada, apart from Mayurbhanj district, the prevalence of superstition on witchcraft among the tribals is also high in Sundargarh, Keonjhar and Koraput districts.
“The tribals are the staunch believers in witchcraft. We have to make efforts to remove their superstition. Besides, the state government should take special measures to create awareness among the tribals,” he added.
Though the state government has formulated the Odisha Prevention of Witch Hunting Act since 2013, it has not been implemented properly.
It is also alleged that officers in most of the police stations are unaware of the provisions of the Act. The Crime Branch of the state police had recently organised a workshop where district level police officers were given tips on the issue and the provisions in the 2013 Act.
It may be recalled that the Odisha High Court, in response to a PIL, had recently directed the state government to immediately implement the Act, take up awareness drive in the remote areas of the districts and engage doctors in these areas on priority.
However, the state government is yet to adhere to the directive of the High Court till date.