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Sanjeev Kumar Patro

Bhubaneswar: Witchcraft being a tradition among tribal communities like Santhals and Sabars, reports of witch hunting and killings have been coming in a big way from the districts housing such tribes.

Odisha has witnessed at least four killings every month till date this year due to practice of witchcraft. The State has recorded at least 30 deaths during the period January to 20 August this year. The toll over the years looks quite gory.

A high of 58 persons were killed in 2016. The numbers dropped to 36 in 2017, but inched up again to touch 39 in 2018.  With such a high toll, the State figured among the top -5 states in the Country, which recorded high order of mortalities over practicing witchcraft. Many lives met a brutal end either on suspicion of being a 'witch' (especially women, who were tagged as Dayans or Dahani) or practicing 'witchcraft' (using of supernatural power to do evil to someone).

The district-wise toll shows it is the tribal districts like Mayurbhanj, Keonjhar, Sundargarh, Rayagada, Malkangiri, Gajapati and Nuapada, which carry the major burden (83 per cent) of the sorcery toll. However, reports of such killings have come from two coastal districts like Ganjam and Balasore.

The spine chilling fact is the killings have not remained limited to adults. Police records show the age spectrum of victims range from 10-year old child to 60-year old senior citizen. And the socio-economic background shows both the victims and assaulters belonging to the poorest class.

Significantly, the Odisha Government has enacted an Act called  Odisha Prevention of Witch-hunting Act-2013, which provisions penalty for practicing witchcraft. The Act provides a fine of Rs 5,000 and imprisonment up to 1-year. And those who go for 'witch-hunting' they will be charged under strict IPC sections. The Act provides a penalty of Rs1,000 and a jail term upto 3-years for witch-hunters.

The big revelation is when the State has a law under the criminal jurisprudence to deal with the practice of witchcraft, how could people take law into hands? It's only yesterday two in Keonjhar were killed on suspicion of practicing sorcery.

Social workers in the field revealed that the Government absolves itself off after enacting the law. It didn't work hard to implement the same in letter and spirit. In tribal areas, none was aware of such a law. Many accused were convicted under IPC provisions by the courts in the State. A vicious cycle of enmity pervades between the families of victims and the convicted.

Observers are of the view that as the State Government spends Rs 129 crore on Biju Yuva Vahini, the government can utilise its services in spreading awareness about the 2013 Anti-witchcraft Act in the burdened areas.

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