Early in the morning of October 13, Sukmariya Mahato, a 42-year-old woman from Jaleshwor, the district headquarters of Mahottari in south-east Nepal, was wandering around her neighbour’s home. Incidentally, Kajal Kumari Mahato, a 13-year-old girl, was lying in front of her house, in tears, according to a police report obtained by Nepal Live Today. Kajal Kumari’s parents took her incessant crying to be Sukmariya’s doing, that she had cast a spell on the adolescent girl.
Kajal Kumari’s father, Sikandar Mahato, mother Purani Devi Mahato, grandmother Pramila Devi Mahato, and uncle Anil Mahato, fed Sukmariya with feces, cut her hair off, and assaulted her while accusing her of practicing witchcraft.
In another incident in the same district, Shila Devi Jha, a 42-year-old woman from Madai Village, in Mahottari Rural Municipality-3, was accused of killing her husband and son, and causing her sister-in-law’s miscarriage, by practicing witchcraft.
Shila Devi’s sister-in-law, Rinku Devi Jha, was living with her grandmother in Janakpur after her miscarriage, and was sufferring from symptoms of epilepsy. After not getting a permanent medical treatment, she turned towards Shamanism, and claimed that her body was taken over by Shila Devi’s late son Krishna Jha. She went on to accuse Shila Devi of murdering her own son and husband Lal Kishor Jha through witchcraft.
These two incidents happened in the same place simultaneously. There are many other incidents that happen everyday all around Nepal, many of which go unreported.
After hearing this, her brother-in-law, Sanjay Kumar Jha, feared for the protection of him and his family which led him to smashing her head with the hammer three times in her sleep early in the morning of October 14.
These two incidents happened in the same place simultaneously. There are many other incidents that happen everyday all around Nepal, many of which go unreported, said Laxmi Aryal, senior program and training coordinator of Women’s Rehabilitation Center (WOREC), a non-governmental organization fighting against violence against women in Nepal.
Even for cases that have been reported, justice has not been served to the victims and the survivors. This sets a bad precedent as it discourages victims from reporting the incident and encourages the perpetrators that they can go scot-free, said Bimala Khadka, case manager at National Women Commission (NWC), a governmental body established to work towards empowering women and ensuring their rights.
Nepal has criminalized witchcraft allegations. According to the section 168 of the National Criminal Code, culprits will have to face up to 5 years of imprisonment as well as pay the fine of up to 50,000 Nepali Rupees.
“Although people are more aware that these heinous acts to be punishable by law, still it is prevailing in many parts of our country, among which most cases go undetected or unreported,” said Khadka.
What the numbers say
According to data provided by the Nepal Police, cases of violence related to witchcraft accusations have risen within the last 5 years.
In the fiscal years 2015/16 and 2016/17, the number of reported cases related to witchcraft accusations was 28 and 24, respectively. The number has increased in the years 2017/18, 2018/19 and 2019/20 reaching 48, 46 and 34, respectively.
The Informal Sector Service Center (INSEC) Nepal, a non-government organization working for the protection and promotion of human rights in Nepal, however, reports a different set of data related to witchcraft accusations.
The number of witchcraft accusations has increased over the last 3 years, including 5 deaths in total, according to INSEC’s data; the number of incidents in the years 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, and 2020 is 34, 33, 63, 44, and 62, respectively.
What can be done?
Police authority, public prosecutors and the court play the major roles legally to control these incidents, says Indu Tuladhar, an advocate and executive chair of Himal Innovative Development and Research Pvt. Ltd., a company established for rights based development, especially targeting women, children, and marginalised communities in Nepal.
“When police authorities do their part with the investigation, public prosecutors sincerely fight for the victims’ and their family’s right, and the court provides the necessary justice, then only will there be a proper implementation of the law that is in place,” Tuladhar said, adding that although having the law to protect the rights of every individual is essential, it is not necessary enough. “Unless people are willing to educate themselves and their families regarding these superstitious beliefs, no amount of law will help eradicate the malice of witchcraft accusations,” she said.
To bring about these changes, it does take time, but through a proper investment in the mass awareness of people from the government, media personnel and governmental and non governmental organizations, will go a long way, added Tuladhar.
“If we are to decrease these incidents in the future, we need to provide not just formal education to the people but also moral education,” she said.