May 25, 2004

Woman Accused of Witchcraft Murdered

India: There's nothing like ignorance to bring out the loon in people. In today's exciting story, our hero is a total wingnut who needed a reason for the death of his niece. Being a backwoods type, he trotted off to the local witch doctor who nominated a handful of completely innocent women as witches, one of whom is now dead at the hands of said wingnut.

Does anybody see the irony of having a witch doctor accuse people of witchcraft?

It's just two days since Savsinh Makwana and his brother Raman of Jari Bhuzarg village in Dahod killed their their neighbour — a 40-year-old widow. But as he sits in the lock-up of Garbada police station, remorse is the last thing on his mind.
For, he is convinced that he has done the right thing by killing Ditaben Punia Sanghor, who, according to him, is a daakan (witch). His conviction has been reinforced by the fact that when he and his brother hit her on the head with an axe on Friday, she did not bleed.
It is yet another gory tale emerging from the dark world of superstition from the tribal hinterlands of Dahod district. Ditaben was killed by Savsinh and Raman who believed that it was her witchcraft which led to the death of their eight-year-old niece.
I hit her thrice with the axe but no blood came out. It's quite clear that she was a daakan. We had to repeatedly hit her on the head before she died. But still, no blood came out, he says to corroborate his view that Ditaben was indeed a witch. Savsinh had turned himself in to police soon after the killing and expects his brother Raman to follow suit. He has done no crime, he shouts from the lock-up.
Back in the village, Ditaben's relatives are stunned. There's more anger than grief. Her only son Ramesh has just returned from Gandhidham where he has been working as a labourer for the last four months. He gives a blank stare as you ask him about the brutal murder of his mother. A little prodding, and he blurts out furiously, She was not a daakan. Those who killed her should be punished. His younger sister Shantaben echoes the same sentiments. Ditaben was alone at her place when she was attacked by the two accused. While two of her four daughters are married, the other two also work as labourers in Gandhidham along with their brother.
Ramesh's uncle, Maliabhai who has lodged the police complaint refuses to say anything fearing it would aggravate the situation in the village. Not surprising because, barring a few relatives of Ditaben, a majority of the 6,000-odd villagers firmly believe that she was a daakan.
Sarpanch Shanker Ganava said, The villagers approached me last year when a girl in the family of the accused died. They suspected four women, Ditaben was one of them, of being a daakan. I immediately called a meeting of both the sides.
At the meeting, it was decided that the four women would be sent to a hadwa (witch doctor) in a village in Jhabua, Madhya Pradesh, for identifying the real witch. The bhadwa told the villagers that Ditaben was not a daakan and singled out another woman. But since she was related to the family of the accused, they decided to approach another bhadwa at Jhagadia for confirmation, said Ditaben's cousin brother, Butiabhai.
It was at Jhagadia that Ditaben was branded a witch and others let off, say villagers. Repeated attempts by the village elders to rid Ditaben of the evil spirit by shaving off her hair and subjecting her to some vidhi was resisted by her, resulting in resentment building up against her.
The last straw was when Kaliabhai, one of the Makwana brothers, died on Sunday followed by the death of his eight-year-old daughter Shanta on Friday due to excessive vomiting.
She (Ditaben) told us that this was just the beginning and all our family members will meet the same fate. We had no other option but to kill her, says Savsinh.
Garbada police officials, under whose jurisdiction the village falls, admit that attacks on women accused of being daakan is common in the tribal villages of the district though it does not usually end up in murder. Those accused of being daakane are beaten up but since in majority cases it does not end up in murder, nobody approaches the police, said a police official.
An activist working in the tribal areas attribute the recurring incidents to lack of awareness drives and called for strengthening of law against such acts. Unless the police get involved in a major way and in work in tandem with organisations who seriously want to create awareness in these areas, such incidents are going to recur, said social activist Kanubhai Brahmabhatt.

Branded witch, she was bludgeoned to death by neighbours - Indian Express, 23rd May 2004.

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This page contains a single entry by Red Wolf published on May 25, 2004 12:48 AM.

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