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MALLIKA ARYAL

INTERESTING TIMES
Witch-hunts
Medieval barbarity continues to blight the landscape of New Nepal

MALLIKA ARYAL

FROM ISSUE #482 (25 DEC 2009 – 31 DEC 2009)

KIRAN PANDAY

In November Jug Chaudhary, a 30-year-old mother of four children, was beaten up by her family members and paraded naked around a village in Kailali. They dragged her out from her home, beat her mercilessly and then forced her to eat human excreta. Her mother-in-law’s brother had just passed away. She had been accused of putting a spell on him that caused his death.

When Chaudhary’s husband, a labourer in India, returned the couple went to the police station but could not file a complaint. “They said it was a personal matter, it should be solved in the community.” Jug Chaudhary did not receive justice. She is living in the same village, in the same Dalit community as those who accused and assaulted her.

Chaudhary made the journey to Kathmandu to talk at a public forum last week. It is extremely difficult for her to talk about what she went through publicly. She has to stop many times and her voice cracks when she describes how helpless she felt when she realised there was noone she could turn to.

She has now decided to leave her four children in the village and move to India to look for jobs. But she has this to say:

“I came all the way to Kathmandu to talk about this because I do not want other Nepali sisters to go through what I did.”

Five other women from Dalit and other minority communities in Lalitpur, Saptari, Siraha, Kailali, Sunsari and Makwanpur also speak at the forum. Each was branded a witch and humiliated in front of their communities. In each case the perpetrators have been let off the hook. Noone has come to apologise to the women for treating them like animals. They are awaiting justice, but living in fear of being targeted again. “I can’t sleep because I am afraid they are going to come back for me,” says Chaudhary.

These are not the only cases. But we only hear of those cases where brave women actually talk to journalists and file cases with the police. There are thousands of Nepali women who quietly bear the ordeal of being labelled a witch. The victims mostly belong to largely illiterate, extremely poor Dalit communities, considered untouchables in Nepal.

Nepal’s legal system does not have provisions to punish those involved in witch-hunts. If a complaint is filed and the guilty apprehended they are imprisoned for a short duration and slapped with a fine. The Ministry of Women, Children and Social Welfare and Nepal’s Women’s Commission are only just recognising the legal vacuum and have drafted laws against the practice. But we are still a long way from actually having a law that fully addresses this problem.

However, Nepal has been a party to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women since 1991. This international convention has clear provisions against gender violence. The state is obligated to amend domestic laws to conform to the spirit of the convention, follow the convention to the letter, or provide legal redress in cases where rights have been violated. Nepal has also signed nearly two dozen conventions on human rights, all of which touch upon gender violence. So to say we don’t have laws in place is a cop-out, pure and simple.

Witch-hunting is an extreme form of gender violence and the reason it is not taken seriously is because the victims are usually from marginalised communities. Nepal’s gender movement has made amazing strides, but it has done little for this community of victims.

Activists in Kathmandu can push for laws against witch-hunting while those in the field can work to spread awareness against the medieval superstitions that target these women. The Nepal Police, too, needs to include a chapter on how to address crimes related to superstition in their training manuals.

Three years ago in June, the interim parliament declared Nepal an ‘untouchability-free nation’. Such empty proclamations mean little to women like Jug Chaudhary. This year, Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal acknowledged the state’s failure to deliver on its promises, saying, “it is unfortunate that we haven’t been able to implement this declaration in practice.”

After the witch-hunt, Marani Devi comes back fighting

By Seema A Adhikari

KATHMANDU, Feb 14: Marani Devi, 55, from the eastern plain district of Mahottari, who hit the headlines last year after being bludgeoned by locals who branded her a witch, wants to launch a nation-wide campaign against conservatism.

Seven months ago, Marani Devi was fed human faeces and beaten up by several men, led by none other than the Chairman of Simardahi VDC, all because the men thought her to be a witch.

Such incidents take place often in most of the rural parts of Nepal. There were similar cases recorded in other parts of the country before Marani Devi’s case was brought to light.

But Marani Devi now wants to put an end to all that. She doesn’t want anybody to go through the humiliation that she had experienced.

Marani Devi is presently the Chairperson of the locally- formed Rural Community Development Council, and organises women against such practices.

She was also given a membership of the Women Security Pressure Group, after Sahana Pradhan, leftist leader, and Durga Ghimire, social activist, went through the harrowing reports of her agony.

Marani Devi, who earlier this week arrived at the capital for the first time in her life, to participate in a two-day seminar on “Solidarity for Gender Equality” organised by various organisations fighting for women’s rights, is now seeking co-operation from all the political parties, government and civil society in her national campaign against discrimination.

She has now come a long way from the days when she was a butt of public insult and jealousy. Marani Devi is now a grass-roots social worker, championing the cause of women’s rights.

Recalling those nightmarish days, she said she herself could not hold back her tears after seeing her photograph in Kantipur, sister publication of The Kathmandu Post, which captured her pain. At the Solidarity seminar, she didn’t forget to thank the media, non-governmental organisations and civil society for raising their voices against such inhuman conduct.

While talking to The Kathmandu Post, she said she would be much happier if the people, who tortured her, are punished by the law. Sixteen people, including the VDC Chairman, Nobal Kishor Sahani, were arrested by the local administration in this case, but were released on bail by an appellate court in Janakpur.

“They (the accused) still tease me. But I have not given up my courage,” says Marani Devi, who narrated her tale before over 1,000 participants at the Royal Nepal Academy a few days back. “There should be a tough law to punish those indulging in witch-hunt.”

Admitted to the Janakpur Hospital in a critical condition after being bludgeoned by the locals, the government, under mounting pressure from the media and lawmakers, had promised to bear all the expenses for her treatment. The government, however, has not kept its word, says Marani Devi, mother of two sons. “I had to spend Rs. 22,000 for my treatment”.

In a bid to hunt down the so-called witches of Simardahi VDC, a shaman was brought from neighbouring India to the village, where almost all the women were forced to line up so that the shaman could identify the witch. But the fact was that the VDC Chairman had already asked the shaman to point his finger at Marani Devi.

Basanta Devi Jha, who accompanied Marani Devi to the Capital, said that it was sheer personal vendetta that triggered the humiliation of her friend.

Former Speaker, Daman Nath Dhungana, says that accusations of witchcraft are just a guise to exploit women. “Such injustice is punishable even by the existing laws,” said Dhungana. As far as a new Bill to outlaw witchcraft is concerned, Dhungana says, “It should first be defined as to what type of crime it comes under.”

Witchcraft is a deep-rooted practice in society, and witch-doctors are hardly punished by law.

After Marani Devi’s case came to light, a group of lawyers recently filed a writ petition in the Supreme Court challenging the practice of witchcraft. The petition is also timely going by the growing number of crimes related with witchcraft.

“A separate law is required to systematically deal with witchcraft crimes,” says advocate Dr. Shanta Thapaliya.

Another legal expert and woman activist, Sapana Pradhan Malla, also says that the sooner a law on witchcraft is made, the better it would be to bring an end to the conflict between belief and disbelief. Marani Devi would agree.

http://74.125.155.132/search?q=cache:6WaH-2xTaAQJ:www.nepalnews.com.np/contents/englishdaily/ktmpost/2002/feb/feb15/index.htm+maranidevi&cd=4&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=us&client=firefox-a

National Human Rights Commission, National Women Commission and National Dalit Commission have decided to work together on the issue of witchcraft abuse in Pyutar, Lalitpur.

Representatives of the three commissions met at NHRC premises Monday afternoon to discuss the incident that occurred last week.

The three commissions also discussed about taking action against the perpetrator and provide compensation as well as security to the victim.

The meeting also agreed the incident was against international protocols on human rights of which Nepal was a signatory and also against the interim constitution of Nepal.

One Kali Kumari BK and her husband Chet Bahadur had been rescued from Lalitpur last week by a team of representatives from National Dalit Commission, National Women’s Commission, Human Rights Organisations, journalists and a Dalit CA member.

BK was allegedly tortured by villagers in allegation of practicing witchcraft. BK said she was beaten up, abused and even made to eat human excreta by a group of people in the village. nepalnews.com Mar 27 09

http://www.nepalnews.com/archive/2009/mar/mar30/news12.php

Witches in the 21st Century
24 August 2009

Throughout history, people described as witches have been persecuted, tortured and murdered and the practice continues today. Statistics are not easy to come by but it is known that every year, thousands of people, mostly older women and children are accused as witches, often abused, cast out of their families and communities and in many cases murdered.

The Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Philip Alston, in his most recent report to the Human Rights Council, says: “In too many settings, being classified as a witch is tantamount to receiving a death sentence.”

Shockingly, it is children that are increasingly targeted. A report for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees published in January 2009, “Witchcraft Allegations, Refugee Protection and Human Rights”, says the abuse of children accused of witchcraft is common in countries that have suffered years of conflict where traditional social structures have disappeared and where child soldiers have often emerged as a threat. And in countries where sudden deaths from diseases like AIDS are common, where there are few if any prospects of a better life, and where revivalist churches confirm signs of witchcraft, children are often accused of supernatural powers and persecuted.

Alston concludes: “The persecution and killing of individuals accused of practicing so-called “witchcraft” – the vast majority of whom are women and children – is a significant phenomenon in many parts of the world.” The response to witchcraft “frequently involves serious and systematic forms of discrimination,” he says, “especially on the grounds of gender, age and disability.” The families of the witches are also “often subjected to serious human rights violations.”

In his report, Alston offers an insight into the size of the problem and its geographical spread;

Reports from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) suggest that most of the 25,000 – 50,000 children living on the streets of the capital, Kinshasa are there because they have been accused of witchcraft and rejected by their families. In 2009 The Committee on the Rights of the Child noted that in the DRC “violence against children accused of witchcraft is increasing, and that children are being kept as prisoners in religious buildings where they are exposed to torture and ill-treatment or even killed under the pretext of exorcism.”

The Special Rapporteur on violence against women has highlighted the problem of witch hunts in India, Nepal and South Africa.

In Ghana it is thought as many as 2,000 accused witches and their dependents are confined in five different camps. Most of the camp inmates are destitute, elderly women and some have been forced to live there for decades.

The murder and persecution of people accused of witchcraft in Tanzania is better documented than in most countries. The figures vary widely but it is estimated as many as a thousand, mostly elderly Tanzanian women are targeted and killed annually.

In Angola, the Committee on the Rights of the Child has called for “immediate action to eliminate the mistreatment of children accused of witchcraft”.

In Papua New Guinea, provincial police commanders reportedly said there were more than 50 sorcery-related killings in 2008. Other sources have suggested much higher figures. (As an appendix to this article please see the following excerpt from the AHRC Urgent Appeal INDONESIA: Nine women labeled as witches are subjected to ill-treatment in West Papua).

In Nigeria, the Child Rights and Rehabilitation Network reports an increasing number of children abandoned or persecuted on the grounds they are witches or wizards.

In Nepal, elderly women and widows are often singled out and abused in exorcism ceremonies.

In considering how to address the problem, the Special Rapporteur has said that making it illegal to believe in witchcraft is not a solution. Respect for customary beliefs, however does not allow for persecution and murder. Alston recommends in his report that all killings of alleged witches be treated as murder and investigated, prosecuted and punished. And governments, he says, must play their part, taking all available steps to prevent such crimes and prosecute and punish perpetrators.

Alston also recommends that the problems surrounding the persecution and killings be reflected in the guidelines and programs of development agencies operating in countries where there is a significant level of belief in witches and witchcraft. Alston wants more than awareness-raising programmes. He believes protection should be offered to those whose lives are endangered by accusations of witchcraft.

For a Direct Link to 44-Page 2009 Document:
http://www.reliefweb.int/rw/lib.nsf/db900sid/RWST-7RAL7E/$file/unhcr-jan2009.pdf?openelement

Further information may be found at: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/Witches21stCentury.aspx

Human Rights & Culture wishes to thank WUNRN for forwarding this report. Further information on WUNRN may be found at: http://www.wunrn.com

April 23rd, 2009 – 4:19 pm ICT by IANS

By Sudeshna Sarkar
Kathmandu, April 23 (IANS) Dasharath Sawant, a 55-year-old soothsayer from India’s Maharashtra state, had hoped to visit the famed Pashupatinath shrine in Kathmandu with seven members of his family.

On the way, the group had also planned to do a bit of business, predicting fortunes and selling auspicious stones and herbal remedies.

Instead, he, his four sons and three other relatives came within an ace of being beaten to death by a mob at the Lahan market in south Nepal’s Siraha district where they had halted Tuesday night.

Read more: http://www.thaindian.com/newsportal/world-news/amid-violence-indians-get-caught-up-in-nepals-witch-hunt_100183537.html#ixzz0awIC61Gv

By:  Christopher Kimberley

Saturday, 31 October 2009

Witchcraft and Human Rights Information Network

This blog has unintentionally become a news archive of human rights violations from around the world which are connected with what the media translate as ‘witchcraft’. This abuse of other human beings takes place everyday, appears to be increasing and is too often ignored because ‘witchcraft’ is part of an occult which frightens many of us.
Very shortly this blog will revert to it’s original purpose, to discuss witchcraft and sorcery connected with modern Europe, and all of the reports of human rights abuse will move to another website. Stepping Stones Nigeria are providing intial funding to establish the Witchcraft and Human Rights Information Network.

ASIAN HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION – URGENT APPEALS PROGRAMME

Urgent Appeal Case: AHRC-UAC-153-2009

http://www.ahrchk.net/ua/mainfile.php/2009/3312

13 November 2009
——————————————————
NEPAL: Police fail to charge those who accused a Dalit woman of witchcraft and forced her to eat human excreta

ISSUES: Violence against women; caste; discrimination; police inaction

Need to eliminate social malpractice

Post Report

KATHMANDU, June 26 : The need to challenge and monitor the social and religious norms of the country in order to eliminate the discriminatory laws and practices of the society was stressed by various legal experts at an interaction programme organised by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) here today. Pointing out the backwardness and ill practices like domestic violence and girl trafficking rampant in the country, legal experts and social workers highlighted legal and social consequences of such malpractice in the country.

Legal experts like advocates Sapana Pradhan Malla and Santosh Giri presented case studies of those women who are the victims of either traditional or superstitious beliefs like witchcraft and social malpractice like girl trafficking and domestic violence that have ruined not only their lives but also of their kith and kin.

“The problem today is that though such victimized women have come out to seek legal assistance, there are no clear provisions under which law we can file the case”, said advocate Santosh Giri. According to him, such superstitious beliefs like the witchcraft can be tackled only through medical training to traditional faith healers or Dhami Jhakris.

Lawyer Sapana Pradhan Malla said that with the on-going conflict and war in the country, women have become the victims of insecurity and poverty. “Women’s movement should be strengthened and the law and the society should go together in taking the initiatives,” she said.

The experts also discussed in detail the problem of girl trafficking despite government and non-governmental organisation’s initiative to curb trafficking in girls.


Witchcraft MagickMankind has always attempted to know the unknowable and control it by his own actions.   At the same time, it was recognized that there were powers beyond his ability to control. Throughout history, certain people have been accepted as being better at controlling the powers that represent natural forces such as earthquake, wind, flood,fire and disease.

In some cases, these powers were named as gods or goddesses, at other times the forces themselves were named and summoned and controlled by the will of humans known as witches in modern day language.  Over the years, they’ve also been known as shamans, medicine man or woman, sorcerers.  The witch was seen as the conduit to the gods who ruled the world.  Different cultures had different rituals and practices to learn the lessons which needed to be shared in order to make sure the harvests were good and the people were healthy.

The power possessed by a witch or shaman skilled in the art and working of witchcraft was assumed to be almost limitless.  By saying certain words or power names in the correct manner and correct tone of voice, the witch could heal the ill, and cast out the evil spirits which caused pain and suffering in those who were diseased.  The witch could restore the dead to life and call upon the powers of nature who acknowledged his might.   Rain and wind, tempest and storm, sea and river and death and disease all attacked his enemies and the enemies of all those whom he helped with his knowledge of the words which were wrenched from the various gods of heaven and earth and the underworld as well.

Witchcraft MagickInanimate nature also obeyed the words of witchcraft and even the creation of the world itself was through a spoken word.  The words could tear the earth apart and make water pile up in a heap and even the sun could be stopped in its course by a word uttered in witchcraft.

The gods, spirits, fiends or devils could not resist power words.  The shaman used them to assist in the greatest and smallest happenings of their life.  Witchcraft allowed them to know the future as well as the past.  Neither distance nor time caused a limitation of the words of power. The practitioner of witchcraft knew secrets that ordinary mortals could not comprehend.

SEE: http://www.witchcraft-magick.com

SOURCE: http://letters2lily.blogspot.com/2007/02/92-why-not-believe-in-witches.html

People in the majority of human societies both today and in the past believe that much of the pain and trouble in the world is caused by witchcraft. The effects of the stars, of random chance or of God’s punishment, are less appealing as explanations largely because there is less we can do as a result of such beliefs. The stars are mindless and unapproachable, chance is uncontrollable and random, God is inscrutable and acts on a plan which often runs counter to our wishes. Yet witches are detectable and can be fought. They think like us, but with evil intentions. To find them we can turn to diviners.

Divination, using various kinds of oracle or shamanic ritual, is a technique to discover the cause for a misfortune. A sign in a mirror or glass ball, throwing of dice, bones or stones, footprints in ash or sand or the voice of a summoned spirit, points us to the offending witch. We can then take action and eradicate him or her. We can set up anti-witchcraft devices such as special substances or sacrifices to ward off the evil or treat the afflicted. All such divination uses devices which prevent it from being shown to be false. If a cure fails, it is because the witch was too strong or the counter-magic used against her was wrongly performed. If the wrong person is accused of witchcraft it is because the real witch has laid a false trail.

Witchcraft is a closed world. It is impossible to challenge its basic premises from within. In the past, almost everyone believed in the power of witchcraft. A sceptic, if such existed, would be accused of being a witch or in the power of one. It is very like many other closed systems which you will have heard about, for example communism. It explains much of the suffering in the world. Every new event adds to its strength. It is very attractive to human beings who live a pain-filled existence.

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