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GAYATRI PARAMESWARAN in RAIPUR, INDIA


FIGHTING BACK: Teertha Bai (right) with two other women in Chhatisgarh of India took the villagers who tortured them for being 'withches' to court and won.
Among all the states in India, Chhattisgarh is where violence against women accused of being 'witches' is most prevalent. Each year, dozens of women are lynched or burnt to death.

The state passed the Witchcraft Prevention Act that carries a three years imprisonment in 2005, and three women in Lachkera, a village about 80 km from the state capital, have used that law to protect themselves from accusations of witchcraft.

Twelve years ago, villagers in Lachkera accused them of being witches because of a fight in the village over religious matters. "They took away all our clothes and set them on fire, and we were paraded naked in front of the whole village," recalls one of the women, Teertha Bai. "They shaved our heads. We were crying, no one stepped forward to save us."

The women were beaten and tortured for eight hours and were lucky to survive. In many similar cases across India, the woman dies from injuries. With help from local activists, Teertha Bai and two other women took their case to court in 2006 and the case became a landmark as for the first time the defendants won a case. But the 17 men convicted of attack only served a year in prison.

Despite this, the head of the women's legal aid group, Shashi Sail, says the law is a significant step forward, but much more needs to be done to combat this medieval scourge. She says, "For women who have been victimised or accused of being a witch, the law has given them hope when there wasn't any, they no longer feel helpless." The women were awarded over INR 100,000 in compensation, but so far have only received money for medical expenses.

Dinesh Mishra, an activist fighting violence against women accused of witchcraft, blames poor education for the prevalence of this practice, where men blame local women after they lose relatives to diseases. "In Chhattisgarh, all 4 cases witchcraft accusations are because of illnesses, and illiterate and ignorant people find a local woman to be the scapegoat."

Mishra, who is a physician, says withcraft is related to a belief in black magic and faith-healing. People who don't know how diseases spread think they fall sick because someone casts an evil spell.

Then there is the strict social hierarchy in the village that prevents people from opposing the village elders when they declare someone a 'witch'.

www.asiacalling.org.

Read also:
"then they set her ablaze?", NARAYAN DHUNGANA in CHITWAN



LATEST ISSUE
638
(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)


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