‘Dayan ka bachcha’ (son of a witch) is how Sunny (name changed) is addressed at his school by his peers. The life of this 14-year-old boy changed when two years ago his mother was branded a witch by the villagers after a little boy in the neighbourhood died. The villagers accused Sunny’s mother, a widow, of practicing black magic which led to the death of the boy.
“He doesn’t want to go to school now. I do not know what to do. I don’t want his education to hamper but there is no solution,” his mother said.
Preeti and Harshita (names changed) two sisters of Karra block in Khunti have reached the age of 30 but are still unmarried.
The reason being, their mother was branded a witch. The mother was forced to flee the village 10 years ago but these two girls stay in the same house, all by themselves.
“We are called daughters of witches. No one wants to marry us. We are the only support for each other,” Preeti said.
Ostracism, name calling and bullying in village and schools are some of the most common problems the children of women who are branded witches in the State have to face on a regular basis.
In most of the cases, the children avoid going to school after a point of time, fearing to be subjected to bullying by the peers.
Asha Shelter Home, run by Association for Social and Human Awareness (ASHA) in Namkum block of Ranchi currently houses six such children whose mothers have been branded a witch.
Of these, three children, between the ages of 8 to 13, are of a woman from Gumla district who was branded a witch by the villagers and forced to flee with her family.
Secretary of ASHA, Ajay Jaiswal, who has been working against witch hunting for over two decades now, said that the mother approached his organization and begged them to keep the children at their home.
“She was moving from one village to another with the three children seeking shelter but could not find a place to live. We took in the three children after which she went to live with a relative in a different village,” Jaiswal said.
These children are now living at the shelter, studying in the nearby government school, without the fear of their identity being disclosed which might subject them to humiliation and insults once again.
Apart from this, the shelter home houses three other children, one from Khunti and two from Lohardaga whose mothers were also branded witches.
“The women occasionally come over to visit their children but they do not want to take the children home as they fear that the little ones will have to face the same humiliation as themselves if they are exposed to the villagers who branded these women witches,” Jaiswal said.
Witch hunting remains a major social evil in Jharkhand since ages. The National Crime Records Bureau data shows that the State has been among the top three in country since its formation (November15, 2000) when it comes to witch hunting murders and had been in leading for four consecutive years from 2013 to 2016.
The data shows that 523 people were lynched in the State from 2001 till 2016 for allegedly practicing witchcraft. Meanwhile, data of Jharkhand police shows that from January 2017 to April 2019, a total of 77 people were killed after being declared witches.
“These are just the number of people who died, there are hundreds of other women who are abused, beaten up, paraded naked, made to eat excreta and subjected to many other forms of humiliation after being branded witches on a regular basis,” Jaiswal said.
He added, “Apart from the trauma of seeing their mother being subjected to torture, the children also have to go through a number of tortures themselves.”
Talking about the issue, director of Integrated Child Protection Scheme (ICPS), Jharkhand, DK Saxena said that awareness seems to be the only solution to social issues like this. “If the children are being tortured or bullied in the school, their parents or other concerned people can take up the issue with school management committees (SMC) for intervention.
They can also bring up the matter to the knowledge of school education or women and child development department,” he said.
However, Jaiswal claims that taking the matter to SMCs is not going to be much of help as the SMC comprises of villagers who are often involved in branding a woman witch. “What is needed is awareness at panchayat level and trainings for panchayat representatives, sahiyyas and other people involved to bring about a change in the mindset of people,” he said.
Saxena said that while a number of programmes spreading awareness against witch hunting is ongoing in the State, there is still need of more such activities and the department will be working on chalking out new plans soon.
(This story is a part of NFI Media fellowship 2019)