Geneva award to Assam “witch-hunts” crusader

Geneva award to Assam “witch-hunts” crusader

Burubala Rabha in Guwahati. Photo/Manash Das

Padmashree Birubala Rabha, the 69-year-old “witch hunt” crusader, was on Saturday awarded by Geneva-based Women’s World Summit Foundation (WWSF) for her creativity and courage to change lives in rural Assam.

She has not just risked her life on several occasions to save victims of Assam’s long “witch hunt” problem but has helped them live with grit and courage.

Every year, the WWSF awards $1,000 each to 10 such women to acknowledge their contributions to improving the quality of life in their areas. The initiatives taken up by these women include sharing knowledge, protecting the environment, standing up for women’s rights, and participating in the realisation of the United Nation's Sustainable Development Goals, 2030. 

"She is a gem and the world needs to learn from all such remarkable women who right the wrong in so many places,” Elly Pradervand, president and chief executive officer of WWSF said, in an email.

More than 200 people, mostly women in interior places in Assam have been labeled “witches” by superstitious villagers and lynched since 2002.

Villagers often blame such victims when maladies like illness, death or financial loss occurs in a family, claiming that evil spells cast on them by him/her caused the misery.

Those accused of practising “witchcraft" are often hunted down and ostracised by the community and the village. At least 17 of the 33 districts in Assam have seen such crime.

Rabha has also been part of campaigns against superstition, which, according to her, resulting in such heinous crimes.

“Education and better healthcare are the only solutions to check such superstition. When people do not get healthcare facility, illiterate people in the interior villages go to quacks, who often blame another person for the misery or illness,” she said while accepting the award at a function at Gauhati University here.  

Rabha’s campaign also prompted the Assam government to pass the Witch Hunting (Prohibition, Prevention and Protection) Act, 2015, that made "witch-hunting" a cognisable, non-bailable and non-compoundable offence, which is said to be the strictest in the country against such a crime.

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