Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Witch trials in Nepal

Yes, witch trials still happen in the world. In Nepal, women are accused of being witches when bad things happen in the area. The women are confined, beaten, and forced to eat excrement until they give in just so the torture can stop.

From IPS reporter Mallika Aryal gives us one example an looks into reasons why this still occurs.

In Sunsari, 650 km south-east of Kathmandu, Jabrun Khatun, 26 was dragged out of her house and beaten in the middle of the village. "They said I was a witch, that because of me a lot of children were falling sick and beat me for hours. Then they stepped on my chest and forced me to eat human excreta," said Khatun.

They imprisoned her for days until local children let her out. She was all alone in the family as her husband had recently left to work in neighbouring India. "I have come all the way to Kathmandu looking for justice," said Khatun.

In Kalilali, far west Nepal, Jugu Kumari Chaudhari was accused of practicing witch-craft when a close family member died. Chaudhari was beaten up and her husband had to come rescue her. "We went to the police station to file a complaint but they said it was a personal matter and we should resolve in the community," said Chaudhari.

Gender activists have been fighting for years to end this extreme form of violence against women, but the problem is still common in the Tarai, the southern plains of Nepal, and in areas where there's high illiteracy and poverty.

"An educated woman from higher-income family and higher caste never gets accused of practicing witchcraft," said Indu Pant, gender advisor at CARE Nepal. Urmila Bishwakarma of the Dalit media group Jagaran Media Centre has been documenting cases of Dalit women who have been accused as witches and tortured. She said that Dalit and other minority women are the most vulnerable because they are socially, culturally, financially and politically backward.

Pant says that the problem is exacerbated because the state is often missing in these regions, so the victims have nowhere to go for help. "Even when they try to seek help from the police they are often turned back because the police says it is a personal matter and must be solved in the community. This culture of impunity lets the perpetrators off the hook."

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