Ashutosh Mishra

By Ashutosh Mishra

Bhubaneswar: The spine chilling murder in a Keonjhar village of a 60-year-old tribal woman and her relative, both suspected to be practising sorcery, serves as a cruel reminder of how superstition continues to grip the minds of people even in 21st century Odisha.

While most such incidents are reported from tribal-dominated areas where high illiteracy and low level of education have a major role to play in shaping the mindset of people other regions are not immune to the problem. Only a few months ago we had seen the bizarre spectacle of a black magician trying to revive a dead woman, a victim of snakebite, near the morgue of Padampur sub-divisional headquarters hospital in Bargarh district.

Similar incidents have also taken place at some other hospitals in the state raising disturbing questions not only about how ‘ojhas’ and ‘disaris’ were allowed to practice their art at hospitals in full public view but also our mindset in general. People who seek the help these practitioners of the occult are either too desperate or have completely lost their faith in scientific methods of treatment.

While it is true that education has a major role to play in reducing the vulnerability of people to non-scientific practices it is no fool-proof guarantee. Even well educated people have been found not only subscribing to such beliefs but themselves carrying out acts associated with the practice of the occult.

A few years ago a young college going girl in western Odisha was allegedly killed by her friends in the fulfilment of a bizarre religious ritual. The accused, it later transpired, were the fanatic followers of a cult. In yet another incident a six year old girl in Balasore district was kidnapped and her wrist cut to drain blood to appease goddess Kali.

The phenomenon, however, has been most visible in the tribal-dominated districts of the state, especially in districts such as Sundergarh, Kenojhar and Mayurbhanj. Several cases of witch hunting have been reported from these districts with women invariably at the receiving end. There have been instances of vindictive relatives feeding human excreta to women suspected to be practising black magic.

Sundergarh district police in the past had even tried sensitizing people in tribal hamlets against such beliefs by engaging scientists and rationalists who went around holding demonstrations to debunk popular myths associated with black magic and sorcery. But the effort seems to have failed to achieve desired results with people still putting their faith in such practices.

Incidently Odisha is among the few states of the country which has a law to curb such activities. The Odisha Prevention of Witch Hunting Act, 2013 is supposed to act as a deterrent in such matters but the state needs to implement it with greater zeal. It is important to ensure that police personnel are well versed with the provisions of this law so that they can implement it strictly.

More than being a legal issue it is a social problem and needs the involvement of social activists and non-government organisations in spreading awareness against superstitious practices. The day such an awareness drive turns into the social movement we can be hopeful of putting an end to crimes born out of superstition.

(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are author’s own and have nothing to do with OTV’s charter or views. OTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.)