Superstitious mindset prevalent in rural areas

Phatu Devi (left) and Chhutani (right).The age old practice of witch-hunting remains unabated in Jharkhand.  The latest victim was Phatu Devi, who was caught, thrashed and locked in a room for close to two days with a dead child. Her fault was simply that her son-in-law's eleven month old nephew died barely few hours after she arrived at their house, which prompted relatives to declare her a witch.

 Phatu Devi said: “I had gone to see my daughter’s place on hearing her sister-in-law’s baby was ill. Unfortunately, he died few hours after I went over there. The baby was buried and I was asked to stop for a night there. Next morning, they suddenly declared me a witch probably after consulting a witch-doctor.”

She adds :  They exhumed the body of the baby on June 25 and asked me to bring him back to life. I pleaded my innocence. Despites my all the entreaties and my daughter's protest against her in-laws, they locked me inside a room with the dead child asking me to bring the baby back to live or face mrityudand (death).”

Phatu expected a nothing of the kind before visiting her daughter Anita’s place in a remote Dhatkidih village of Jharkhand's Saraikela Kharswa. However, her relatives thought it to be a right dose for the alleged felony she had committed. Even a gram sabha convicted and awarded the death sentence for her.

Anti-witchcraft Act

For a change, police have implicated three people in a case lodged under the Anti-witchcraft Act with Kandra police station. Two of them namely Bakar Kumkar and Raju Kumkar have been remanded to the judicial custody. The case was lodged days after the incident occurred

As the news spread, Chhutani Mahtain, a worker of reputed NGO Free Legal Aid Committee (FLAC) came to her forward and rescued Phatu Devi from the clutches of her relatives with the help of some conscientious citizens. Now Phatu Devi is in better spirits after this group of social workers held her finger and pledged to bail her out of present crisis.

Chhutani Mahtain told Deccan Herald. “There is no gainsaying the fact that it’s very common phenomenon in the tribal dominated society. The extent of the complicity can be discerned from the fact that now the witchcraft related incident or killing fail to offend the human sensibility. Our aim spread awareness among the people about the ill-effects of this social evil and save the innocent lives.”

Chhutani is herself a victim sorcery related evil perpetrated against her about 15 years ago. Since then, she has been campaigning against the witchcraft related evils in the tribal society. Phatu is currently staying with Chhutani Mahtain.

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