Friday, January 1, 2010

Nepal: Women & Witchcraft

From the Nepali Times:
In November Jug Chaudhary, a 30-year-old mother of four children, was beaten up by her family members and paraded naked around a village in Kailali. They dragged her out from her home, beat her mercilessly and then forced her to eat human excreta. Her mother-in-law's brother had just passed away. She had been accused of putting a spell on him that caused his death.

When Chaudhary's husband, a labourer in India, returned the couple went to the police station but could not file a complaint. "They said it was a personal matter, it should be solved in the community."

Five other women from Dalit and other minority communities in Lalitpur, Saptari, Siraha, Kailali, Sunsari and Makwanpur also speak at the forum. Each was branded a witch and humiliated in front of their communities. In each case the perpetrators have been let off the hook. Noone has come to apologise to the women for treating them like animals. They are awaiting justice, but living in fear of being targeted again.

Nepal's legal system does not have provisions to punish those involved in witch-hunts. If a complaint is filed and the guilty apprehended they are imprisoned for a short duration and slapped with a fine.

Witch-hunting is an extreme form of gender violence and the reason it is not taken seriously is because the victims are usually from marginalised communities. Nepal's gender movement has made amazing strides, but it has done little for this community of victims.

Activists in Kathmandu can push for laws against witch-hunting while those in the field can work to spread awareness against the medieval superstitions that target these women. The Nepal Police, too, needs to include a chapter on how to address crimes related to superstition in their training manuals.

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