A 40-YEAR-OLD Dalit woman was allegedly branded a witch, stripped, lashed and made to eat faeces in a village in Rajasthan’s Ajmer district. She was then dragged by her hair and forced to lie on a bed of embers. The embers were then shoved into her eyes, blinding her.
Kanya Devi, a widow, died a day after she was assaulted by two of her relatives and a neighbour on August 2, police said on Sunday. The incident took place at Kadera village near Kekri in Ajmer, about three hours from here. According to the police, a village caste panchayat had absolved the perpetrators by asking them to take a holy dip in Pushkar and arrange a tractor-load of fodder for cows. The panchayat also threatened the victim’s immediate family with social boycott if they reported the matter to police.
The assault on Kanya started around 11 pm on August 2 when she was sleeping with her 15-year-old son Kalu at their home.
“She was badly tortured. The accused have admitted to forcing her to eat faeces, lashing and burning her. Five of the six accused, booked for murder and under relevant sections of the Rajasthan Prevention of Witch Hunting Act, have been arrested,” said Ajmer Superintendent of Police Rajendra Singh.
The accused included Kanya’s neice Pinky, nephew Mahaveer and neighbour Sonia. “They claimed that they were asked by one Bhairon Baba to beat Kanya as she was a witch,” said Tara Ahluwalia, an activist in Bhilwara working with women branded as witches. “But the real reason was property. Kanya’s husband recently passed away and since her son is a minor, her husband’s relatives conspired to get rid of her and grab her eight bigha land.”
The matter came to light when Mahadev Regar, a relative and local activist, went for her funeral. When he learnt of the incident, Mahadev reported to the police on August 8 but the Kekri police station reportedly refused to register the FIR, asking for evidence. “On August 8, Mahadev lodged a complaint but we were waiting for a complaint by a close relative. After her 23-year-old daughter Maya Devi submitted a complaint, we lodged an FIR on Sunday,” said Kekri police station SHO Hari Ram Kumawat. A police team visited the site of alleged assault on Sunday, he said.
An FIR was lodged under Indian Penal Code Sections 302 (murder) and 201 (causing disappearance of evidence of offence) as well as sections 3 (prohibition of witch-hunting), 4 (punishment for witch-hunting) and 7 (punishment for unnatural death of a woman subjected to witch-hunting) of The Rajasthan Prevention of Witch-Hunting Act, 2015.