Updated: August 1, 2021 6:56:29 pm
Forty-year old Surajmani Devi’s throat was slit with an axe by a group of villagers while she was fast asleep with her five-year old son by her side, last month in a remote Palamu village.
Her only fault was that her neighbour’s daughter died a month back and villagers suspected her of being a “dain” or “bisahi” (witch or sorceress) who ensured that death.
The brutal murder of the Dalit woman at Godarmakala village under Rehla police station occurred in the wee hours of July 7 and police later arrested a few people including her husband’s brother Amresh Rajwar based on the testimony of a six year old boy, who witnessed the crime.
Surajmani was one of countless women in Jharkhand killed after being accused of practising “sorcery or witchcraft”.
Last year, three women were allegedly stripped and thrashed by a mob of around 50 people who accused them of practising witchcraft, and then paraded them without clothes through the streets of a village in Garhwa district.
Those who survive the trauma of mob accusations and lynching and of neighbours and relatives turning against them, are often at their wits end to cope with the crisis.
Rehabilitation and counselling to pull them out of depression and trauma is now recognised as a must besides mass education to stop the evil practise of singling out women with fake “witch” accusations.
Help is also needed to get help them earn new livelihoods as many continue to face social stigma because of the false accusations and very often cannot even return to their native villages.
To address these needs, the tribal state has now launched a project called `Garima’ or honour, which aims at up-rooting the evil practise of branding women as witches and of rehabilitating victims.
So far, more than one thousand women who are facing the brunt of accusations of witchcraft in the state have been identified under the project, according to Nancy Sahay, CEO, Jharkhand State Livelihood Promotion Society (JSLPS).
Work is being done to provide social, economic and psychological help to enable these women to overcome this trauma and move forward in their lives.
The project aims to reach 2,068 villages of 342 Gram Panchayats in 25 selected blocks of Bokaro, Gumla, Khunti, Lohardaga, Simdega, West Singhbhum and Latehar.
Said Manish Ranjan, Secretary, Rural Development Department, “enmity, land grabbing are among the reasons behind making fake accusations and concerted efforts were needed to eradicate” the unacceptable practise.
The NGOs working in Jharkhand say in most of cases the victims belong to poorest strata or are widows who are targeted in order to grab their property.
Sahay said the Garima Project was started in April last year, at the behest of Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren targets eradication of the practise from the state by March 2023.
Psychological Treatment is being given to traumatised women through among other methods, art therapy. In Simdega district, this initiative was started as a 3-day training, in which an attempt was made to understand the mental state of the women suffering from such accusations through their paintings.
During the training, field workers tried to bring back the confidence of these women through various activities. Also, by analysing their choice of colours, attempts were made to identify who were the most traumatised and needed greater help.
Efforts are being made to bring women who have borne this trauma, back into the mainstream by connecting them with more and more victims, by connecting them with community organizations, said officials.
Under the Garima Project, a continuous effort is being made to identify women suffering from accusations of witchcraft and efforts are being made to provide them equal status in society. To make 25 blocks of the state witchcraft accusation free by March 2023, raising the level of people’s awareness and other activities are being undertaken continuously.
“Through this initiative, the victims are being identified and ensured their livelihood. At the same time benefits of other government schemes are being assured to them,” said Sahay.
According to the National Crime Record Bureau data for 2019 Jharkhand ranked third in witch-hunting cases and recorded 15 murders related to the crime.
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