December 27th, 2015
Follow Dinesh Mishra
“Last week I got to know that in Chhattisgarh, a 20-year-old girl was brutally tortured in the name of witch by her in-laws. She was beaten black and blues. They also tried to burn her alive by putting kerosene,” reads Dr. Dinesh Mishra’s post on Facebook, “On the day of Hareli, a witch hunter was called who burned a piece of camphor on her hand. After going through all this she went back to her parents who under the pressure of society did not extend any support to her. She then went to the police station from where she was directed to Nari Niketan.”
As it turns out, 1500 cases of witchcraft violence were reported in the last 14 years in Chhattisgarh. 90 percent of the victims were either widows, or women separated from husbands, or women with no children; and 250 of them have been killed.
After Dr. Mishra began his medical practice in the 1990s, he soon realized that he needed to do a lot more than just clinical work to improve rural health and fight the prevalent witchcraft violence. In 1995, he and a few others founded the Andhshraddha Unmulan Samiti to fight witch-hunting and other superstitious practices. He visited several villages and organized workshops and held dharnas against ‘jyotishis’ and babas who claim to cure people through any form of mystical treatment.
Mishra’s accounts reveal the heinous crimes that are still taking place in the name of superstitions in rural India. In early 1990s, he says, a surprisingly high number of people visited ‘ojhas’ and ‘tantriks’ for treatment. Women were routinely termed witches and publicly humiliated; they were forced to consume excreta and urine, and were stripped and paraded in streets. Sadly, some of these practices are still prevalent today and the offenders often escape with no punishment.
Mishra’s efforts to fight superstitions have led to the Chhattisgarh govt. enacting the Tonhi Pratadna Nivaran Adhiniyam in 2005, which criminalizes the act of terming a person witch. However, rehabilitation of the victims and convincing the witnesses to testify against the offenders are still major challenges. Mishra has also faced several anonymous threats over the years.
With acts as primitive as witch-hunting taking place at several locations in the country, can we really call ourselves developed and civilized? While we as a nation have achieved several scientific breakthroughs, we are quite far from eradicating superstitions at the grass-root level. We hope to soon see a country where education and scientific temperament have overcome the curse of ignorance and superstitions.