Women tortured for being 'witches'

A large number of women are victims to the witch hunt practice in Nepal.
(Naresh Newar/IRIN)

Rupisara Darji is still in shock and undergoing medical treatment after a brutal beating by her relatives, who accused her of being a witch or “boksi” in the Nepalese language. They blamed her for using black magic to make a young girl ill in Myagdi district, 400km south of the capital, Kathmandu.

“She was severely beaten with logs so that her witch’s spell would leave the girl’s body,” said a local teacher, Man Bahadur Pariyar, who with other villagers helped to rescue 60-year-old Darji and took her to the local health centre.

“This should not be tolerated. It is time we realised this [so-called] witch-craft is ridiculous and primitive,” said Pariyar.

Women’s rights activists have been battling for decades to end this form of gender violence but the problem persists, especially in the Terai region, the southern fertile plains of the country, they say.

“We are still shocked to find the incidence of women being subject to the worst form of violence - both physical and mental - at the hands of their families and local communities,” said activist Bandana Rana.

Rana’s documentary film, Witch - Myth or Reality, made nearly a decade ago, for the first time exposed the gross violation of human rights against Nepalese women accused of being witches.

Activists believe that awareness of harmful myths surrounding witch-craft should be spread more effectively across the country because of concerns such superstitions result in the victimisation of innocent women.

According to documented case studies by women’s rights groups, the elderly, widows, or extremely poor are often singled out as witches. In addition, many are of low caste.

Legal vacuum

Activists blame traditional spiritual healers, Jhankri, also known as witch-doctors, for victimising innocent women, labelling them as witches.

“The worst problem is that we still don’t have any laws to apply harsh punishment to those who torture women in their witch-hunt,” said rights activist Samjha Shrestha.

Activists had hoped to introduce specific laws to punish those involved in witch-hunts but so far this abuse has still not been sufficiently addressed by the government, said Shrestha. The only punishment is short-term imprisonment.

“We cannot neglect this issue just because it doesn’t get frequently reported in the media because women continue to be vulnerable and at high risk,” said Rana. She added that some families were now using witch-hunts as a cover to victimise female relatives, especially widows, to deprive them of their property rights.

''The worst problem is that we still don’t have any laws to apply harsh punishment to those who torture women in their witch-hunt.''

Activists hope to enlist the help of religious leaders to educate the so-called witch-doctors to change the mindset of local communities.

“The families still close their doors to us when we tell them not to put their faith in these spiritual healers,” said Rana, who explained that the government should take greater initiatives to sensitise people to this issue and spread public awareness.

However, government officials at the Ministry of Women said there was insufficient data to ascertain the extent of the problem. But activists claimed that most of the incidents happen behind closed doors and the true circumstances of the victims were not known even when they were hospitalised.

“The victims are themselves too scared to talk about the abuse, fearing that they would be tortured again, so they keep their abuse confidential,” said Shrestha.


This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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