Mrunal Manmay Dash

Pratima Dharua who is said to be more than 100 years old, has been living alone in a forest since the last 25 years.

However, the fascination for forest did not come naturally to the centenarian from Bhaldunguri village under Bolangir’s Patnagarh Block.

What is shocking is that she was forced to adopt the woods as her home after villagers drove her away from the village suspecting her to be a witch, practices sorcery. She has been living in a shack for over a quarter century now.

As per reports, Pratima was married off in Bhaldunguri village by her parents approximately 70 years ago. Around 25 years back, fellow villagers mistook her for a witch as she was deeply religious and followed all rituals earnestly. They banished her from the village.

Thereafter, she has been living in the forest while managing her affairs with a paltry old age pension of Rs 700 from the government. She does not have a pucca house nor does she have any other source of income.

Speaking to OTV, Pratima said, “I do not want to return to the village where I do not have any dignity. They kicked me out 25 years back. I have been forced to live here since then. I am never going to go back.”

“I have surrendered my life to the Supreme Lord. He shows me the path and I am leading my life as per his wish,” she added.

A local social activist, Giridhari Bhoi, said, “It is very unfortunate that the old woman was subjected to such inhuman treatment by the villagers. After being ostracised, she has made the forest her home.”

Bhoi said apart from the old age pension, Pratima wasn’t getting any other help from the government. “I urge the administration to rescue her and rehabilitate under any of the government schemes,” he added.

It is pertinent to mention here that superstition rules the roost in Odisha, especially in the interiors. There are numerous instances where people have been victimised over superstition.

In August this year, the police had rescued a woman who was kept in captivity by the residents of Chemachata village under Kuldiha wildlife sanctuary in Balasore on suspicion of practising witchcraft.

Similarly, a tribal woman was beheaded in Mayurbhanj district over suspicion of practicing black magic in July this year.