India sure is making a steady progress in every field but our society is still riddled with superstitions which hold back society’s development. Some of us might find it difficult to believe but people in many rural areas in India believe that witches exist. Beating and killing of women on the suspicion of witchcraft is a common occurring and not much has been done by the government to eradicate this practice.
But there is always a ray of hope, and for Assam, that ray of hope is Birubala Rabha, a 66-year-old woman whose fight against the evil-practice is commendable. Here’s her inspiring story.
It was nearly 30 years ago, when Birubala was in her mid 80s and her eldest son fell ill. She visited a village quack who told her that a fairy was pregnant with her son, and that he would die as soon as the fairy’s child was born. But when her son recuperated and got back in good health, she realized that these quacks were only frauds.
For the last 15 years, this courageous woman is fighting against the evil-practice and supports women who are beaten up, thrown out of the house and banished from the village on the name of superstition.
In areas that lack education and awareness, people driven by their own selfish motives brand women as witches to grab their land and property, to take revenge if they deny sexual favours or settle other personal grudges. Single women, widows and old couples are soft targets. Superstition lies in the roots of everything, and quacks and self-proclaimed godmen blame women for natural calamities like crop failure and illness.
There have been many incidents of witch-hunting in the state. According to the home ministry, at least 77 people – mostly women – were killed and 60 others injured in witch hunting incidents in Assam, since 2010.
During her campaigns at different places, Birubala has been threatened and attacked many times. But she continues to fight against the superstition. She attends meetings, holds awareness camps, and teaches school lessons to spread awareness among people.
Birubala Rabha has saved at least 35 women who were branded as witches in the past decade. Her efforts paid when the Assam government brought India’s toughest anti-witch hunting law which mandates up to 7 years of imprisonment for branding someone a witch.
Nothing seems to stop the determined woman and she has a message for everyone. “They will always find new reasons to brand women as witches. But don’t be scared, challenge the offenders and report them to the police. This battle is not going to end anytime soon”, she tells BBC.
For her continuous efforts, she has been conferred an honorary Doctorate degree by Gauhati University.
This story was first published on bbc.com