Anti-Witch hunting crusader Birubala on new mission

    By Staff Reporter,

    Guwahati: On first look you will find her to be just another lady in her 60s, till you know her enormous efforts to bring a change in the society to understand her real worth. Meet Birubala Rabha, who is almost single-handedly fighting against the social evils like witch hunting despite the threats of losing her life.

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    Since mid-1980s, the lady from Thakur Villa village, a remotest part in Goalpara district along the Assam-Meghalaya border, has been fighting to eradicate the superstition of killing innocent people in the name of witch-hunting.

    Birubala Rabha

    Altogether 72 have been killed on suspicion of practicing witchcraft, besides 437 were accused of witch-hunting killings in the state between 2005 and October 2013 according to government record available.

    Her name was also referred for the Noble Peace Prize in 2005. In an interview Birubala Rabha shares her experience and upcoming projects at her home with

    Q: Do you have any new plan in your mission towards making society free from superstitions like witch-hunting?

    A: We have decided to create more awareness by visiting people and having personal interaction and also via public meetings in various parts of Assam which starts from next week. Initially we will go to Tinsukia and then in several places of the upper Assam before moving to other places as well.

    Here, the important thing is that we will also take the women who have been targeted as witch sometime or the other in their lives. In our 15 member team, Anjali Hajong and Padumi of Lakhipur area who were targeted as witch will also accompany.

    I think it will help the people understand the reality. They are such beautiful women and how can these be witch? Moreover, the village heads where such incidents have taken place will also be with us in the journey.

    Q: Who are the people who are helping you in such mission?

    A: Initially, I had to face tremendous problems in my way as everybody would react against me. The village heads ,the general people in the village never listened to me. But gradually, things started changing as I grew stronger in my mind to fight the evil. The media also started to highlight the things and people understood.

    There are several people who have come forward to join hands with me to complete my mission. Starting from Tinsukia to Goalpara many people who are doctors, teachers and social activists have been helping me. But the mission is still far from accomplishment.

    Q: Why and when did you start your war against this social evil?

    A: First of all when I saw people branded my eldest son as witch after he suffered from a mental illness, I was pretty determined to see it off since 1985.

    Once my husband went to a quack to know my son’s status but he had said that my son Dharmaswar would die within three days, but he is still alive. That is completely non-sense. Then I realized how people are made fool by these quacks. Then similar incidents continue to occur in my neighbourhood.

    In many cases, their own families distanced themselves from them. Whenever I came across these cases of witch-hunting cases in the area, I felt disturbed. But for an uneducated rural tribal women like me, I had no idea how to fight.

    After that I joined in the village Mahila Samiti and I was invited in a discussion by the Assam Mahila Samata Society (AMSS) in Goalpara on the issue of witch-hunting. There the local women were silent even after knowing the fact that five women of that locality were branded witch without any reason.

    The local women’s behaviour enraged me and I spoke on their behalf. This is how the journey began.

    Q: What are the major problems you have to face throughout the period till now?

    A: All are problems. The road has been tough, in fact very tough at times. On many occasions the miscreants had threatened to kill me because I advocated for the innocent women who have been branded as witch.

    Initially, the people here boycotted me socially. I fought back and said I was born and brought up here besides getting married here. I’m going to stay back here.

    I used to travel with NGOs to campaign against witch-hunting. I even walked for several kilometers to save the girls. It’s a fight for womanhood against patriarchy, because most of the quacks are men and most of the witch-hunting victims’ women. Out of the 35 people I have personally rescued, 33 are women and two are men.

    Then there are financial problem as always. I’m a very simple village with hardly any earning. We need money to travel to places and do our work. So, it’s another major worry for me. At the same time I also need to run the family along with my two sons and a daughter in law.

    Q: Why do you think people targeted as witch?

    A: This is the main point of the entire thing. The miscreants try to achieve their goal by killing innocent and helpless people by branding them as witch. Recently, when we were fighting the case of Anjali Hajong, I came to know the reason. A village youth tried to establish physical relation with Anjali who is a widow but when she refused to do so, she was branded as witch.

    On the other hand, on some occasions, the ill minded and greedy people try to kill lonely and helpless couples and old persons to acquire their properties. These innocent people are tortured for various means and the villagers also misled by these groups.

    Q: How is the support from the state government?

    A: Very poor. The state government should have been played more pro-active role in this regard. This is also a major worry. So far many innocent people have lost their lives and many others have been tortured. Government can do lot more things if they want to do.
    Besides, an act should be enacted against to stop the crime. We need a strong law to curb it.

    Q: Any other project for the coming days?

    A: We have to make our Mission Birubala which was formed in 2011 stronger and we need to go for wider reach to interact with the people. If the state government allots us a plot of land for an office we can further proceed in our mission.