Superstition and society

Ostracized by entire village, a family in Siraha fights for justice after their mother is tortured for ‘witchcraft’ (with video)

Published On: October 15, 2020 09:35 AM NPT By: Anjali Subedi

Ganesh Yadav’s mother was thrashed and beaten 'for practising witchcraft' by his villagers a month ago. The family now faces a greater risk and hardship after they filed a case against the villagers. Yadav didn't have this mobile phone to take a video. He borrowed a phone from his relative to capture this video, and it took him two days to do this.

KATHMANDU, Oct 15: Kusundi, a remote village in Siraha district, is gripped by a different kind of fear. It is not the coronavirus pandemic, but 'a witch who can make them fall sick just by an evil spell' that has ‘bothered’ the village people. The villagers avoid passing through a certain house, 'where the witch lives'. Even throwing a glance into the direction of the house is considered a risk.  

"Nobody talks to us anymore. They don't even look at us. Even my best friend, who used to hang out with me all the time, has stopped coming to our place," said Ganesh Yadav, 25, over the phone on Tuesday afternoon.

His mother, Murtidevi, who sat in the next room, was unable to speak. Last month, the villagers dragged her onto the road, beat her up badly and forced her to eat human feces. The injuries from the attack have robbed her of the ability to do normal activities or even talk properly. Her neighbors, who accused her of practicing witchcraft 'and so punished her', are enraged that the family lodged complaints against them.

"Her jaw is fractured, she cannot talk properly. Doctors say it will take time for her to recover," reported Ganesh. "I have taken loans for her treatment, but I am not sure if that will cover all her medical expenses."

At midnight on September 14, Murtidevi was attacked for ‘casting an evil spell on a child that killed him’. She was also blamed for some other neighbors’ illnesses. People, including the local leaders, stood by as the beatings and thrashing went on. When she fell unconscious, people went home. The family then sought police intervention.

"She was in a critical condition. We had no money to take her to a hospital in Dharan, and nobody was ready to lend us money. A distant relative agreed to pay for the ambulance charges," said the son.

The family has so far spent over 25,000 rupees on her treatment and transportation. She will have to be taken to the hospital many times, said the family.

"I have taken a loan on a heavy interest from a relative. Nobody in the village would help us after this incident," Ganesh lamented.

The incident has a deep impact on the family. Even Murtidevi's daughters, who are married, are being abused by their families 'for being children of a witch'.

"My marriage won’t be possible anytime soon. Nobody will be ready to give their daughter to me now," Ganesh said. "Who will be ready to come to a house which has been labeled a witch's house?"

Ganesh says his mother is traumatized. His father looks hurt. Ganesh is of marriageable age. And he thinks his mother might have felt insecure about the future of her children.

"She wanted me to get married. I'm the eldest son. But I was planning to do so only after ensuring a stable source of income. We are very poor people. I had thought of doing something to improve the situation," said Ganesh, who tried his luck in Malaysia. He worked there for 18 months, but could not save money.

While a family has thus been subjected to appalling social injustice, voice for change is not strong enough in this village. 

Things are changing, but at a very slow pace, said Shova Devi Yadav, deputy ward chair of Nawarajapur – 5. "Changes are happening, but such incidents force us to question the progress made so far," said Shova Devi.

There are around 250 houses with thatched roofs and some concrete structures in the village, and most of the families are into farming, including the victim's family. According to Ganesh, his mother did not have enmity with anyone, and the violence inflicted on her was unexpected.

Meanwhile, Ramudgar Yadav, a ward member of Nawarajapur – 5, refused to talk about the incident. "I don't know, I cannot speak anything about the incident. I just heard that some people are going to jail," he said. Ramudgar had refused to stand as a witness when Ganesh was about to file a case. Despite repeated requests, Ramudgar did not budge, according to Ganesh.   

While the family has accused five people, including Dharmanath Yadav, his son Santosh Yadav, Devnath Yadav, Krishna Yadav and Brahma Yadav of attacking Murtidevi, the case against them is strong enough due to the lack of support from the locals, according to the family. The police have arrested Dharmanath Yadav and the investigation is going on.  

In Nepal, charging anyone of practicing witchcraft attracts five to 10 years of jail term and a fine of 50,000 rupees. Amid voices of stringent punishment and fast tracking of such heinous crimes, Nepal Police Spokesperson SSP Kuber Kadayat admits that a very few of such cases are registered and taken to the court. "In some cases, the victim is mildly harmed, where they cannot produce evidence. Such cases are dismissed before they come to us," he said. "It is true that acceptance and harmony in Society for women charged with witchcraft is elusive. We have to change as a society. Police alone cannot do much about it," he added.  

As per the data of Nepal Police, 13 witchcraft-related cases were registered from mid-July to mid-September. Twenty one people were arrested. In the last fiscal year, 34 witchcraft cases were registered.


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