July 9th, 2015
Birubala Rabha, a household name in Assam now, is synonymous with fighting against the menace of witch-hunting. She has been working relentlessly since 1980s to put an end to this malpractice. Her persistent efforts have recently won her the prestigious Upendra Nath Brahma Soldier of Humanity award in Kokrajhar.
Witch-hunting is a process of tracking down people deemed as witches, which often involves episodes of public frenzy. The belief in witch hunting is so strong in certain areas that it makes families alienate their “witch” members. Sometimes tagging a particular individual as a “witch” carries unscrupulous agendas, such as land grabbing, sexual intents and robbing.
One example of this is the Kokrajhar district of Assam, where witch-hunting is not uncommon. Reportedly, nearly 80 people have been killed in the name of witch-hunting from 2006 to 2011 and 12 more in 2012.
However, there is one woman whose fight against this archaic belief system has been long-standing.
For Rabha, it all began in 1985 when her son, Dharmeshwar, was called a witch owing to his mental illness and was put through periods of misery. This is when she decided to change the course of events. She realised that so long as witch-hunting is a part of society, basic amenities, such as healthcare, shall be denied to people who require it.
Her undying spirit has won her the Upendra Nath Brahma Soldier of Humanity award in Kokrajhar on 4th July 2015. This award grants her INR 25, 000, a citation and a bronze memento. She has also won the Assam Government’s Best Social Entrepreneur award and has been bestowed upon with an honorary doctorate from Guwahati University.
Beyond awards and recognitions, the most important result of her efforts is the highlight that she has brought to the cause. While receiving the award, she called out to the public and said that citizens had as much role to play in the course of change, as the government. Come to think of it, Rabha could have been just another tribal woman who was a victim of witch hunting, but she decided to rise against it. She faced death threats on multiple occasions and was subjected to physical and emotional violence, but she did not back down. This petite old woman is still rigid in her stance and her crusade is stronger than ever. If she can do it, why can’t we?