A middle-aged woman was allegedly branded a witch and attacked in her village on the outskirts of Guwahati in Assam last week. Though the woman was not killed after some other villagers intervened, the incident has once again brought into focus the issue of witch hunting in Assam, and across the country.
For Kati Taro, the difference between life and death last Tuesday, was just a group of villagers who allegedly took pity and refused to let her get killed. Her crime - Karo was accused of witch craft by other villagers, and attacked. Later, a village court ruled that for two years, no one in this village, in a forest reserve just on the outskirts of Guwahati, would have any kind of social ties with her or her family.
Describing her ordeal, Kati Karo said, "The villagers accused me of killing my own brother by poisoning him. They also said there are other people who I have killed and that I will kill five more. They said I am a witch."
This incident is just one in a long list of cases, where women have been hounded for alleged witch craft, particularly in Assam. National Crime Records Bureau statistics say more than 768 women were murdered for "practicing witch craft" between 2008 and 2012 across the country. In Assam, in the decade from 2002 to 2012, 132 people, mostly women, were dubbed witches and killed.
"For many social reasons this witch hunt menace is difficult to deal with. Development can't be the only bench mark to eradicate this menace. Sometimes personal rivalry, social power are also reasons that people exploit others in the name of witch hunting," said Kuladhar Saikia, Additional Director General, Assam Police.
But for women like Kati Taro and hundreds of others who have to face assault, insult and intimidation in the name of witch hunting, the only hope is tougher laws will ensure such instances can stop, or at least lessen considerably.