IRAC moved NHRC over torture and externment of a tribal woman and her family in Jharkhand

The Indigenous Rights Advocacy Centre (IRAC) has taken strong note of the New Indian Express report titled“Jharkhand: Tribal woman forced to leave home after villagers blamed her of practicing witchcraft” dated 1stOctober 2021, available at https://www.newindianexpress.com/nation/2021/oct/01/tribal-woman-forced-to-leave-home-after-threats-by-villagers-blaming-her-ofpracticing-witchcraft-2366453.html.

The report stated that the tribal woman, Jagada Nag,was accused of practising witchcraft. The newspaper quoted Jagada Nag as saying “I was tortured at least for more than a month and was being held responsible for any deaths taking place or person falling ill after a Bhagat, Mangara Munda, from the adjacent village, branded me a sorceress. Not only this, the villagers even started holding me responsible for losing a football match, meeting anaccident by anybody or someone not getting married.”

On 8 September 2021, the villagers held a Panchayat which accused the tribal woman guilty of practising black magic and imposed a fine of Rs 1.6 lakh on her family threatening to kill the entire family if she failed to do pay the amount. The Village Panchayat also passed an order to socially boycott the tribal family and that no one in the village would give food or sell anything to the family. The family members are also not being allowed to do cultivation on their lands.

The tribal woman, unable to pay the fine amount, was expelled from the village. The family took refuge at a rented accommodation in Khunti.

Identification of women as “witches” (daain) and violence against them is a serious problem in Jharkhand. Although the Prevention of Witch (DAAIN) Practices Act, 2001 of Jharkhand prohibits identification of a woman as witch and oppression, the problem continued to persist. Section 3 of the Act prescribes imprisonment of up to three months and/or Rs 1,000 as fine, for “whoever identifies any person as Witch”. For anyone found causing “any kind of physical or mental torture to any person by identifying her as a Witch (Daain), whether deliberately or otherwise,” the act stipulates Rs 2,000 as fine and/or imprisonment for up to six months.

Furthermore, the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act 1989 prohibits atrocities against members of the Scheduled Tribes. Section 3(1)(g) makes it an offence if any non-tribal “wrongfully dispossess a member of a Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe from his land or premises or interferes with the enjoyment of his rights, including forest rights, over any land or premises or water or irrigation facilities or destroys the crops or takes away the produce therefrom.” Further, section 3(1)(p) prohibits institution of false, malicious or vexatious suit or criminal or other legal proceedings against a member of a Scheduled Caste or Schedule Tribe”. IRAC has moved the NHRC against the incident.

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