Low-Caste Women in Nepal the Target of Horror Witch-Hunts

by Rajshri on  February 8, 2010 at 8:00 PM Lifestyle News
RSS Email Print This Page Comment bookmark
Font : A-A+

There are some horror stories told by low-caste people in the sub-continent.

Kalli Biswokarma was tortured by neighbours in her village in Nepal for two days and forced to eat human waste before she finally gave in and confessed to practising witchcraft.

Those who beat, punched and kicked the 47-year-old mother of one accused her of casting evil spells on a schoolteacher who had fallen ill.

"I was victimised because I am a poor woman," said Biswokarma, who belongs to the Dalit community -- the "untouchables" on the lowest rung of Nepal's rigid Hindu caste hierarchy.

"Around 35 people came to my home and took me away. They trapped me in a cow shed and forced me to eat faeces and drink urine," she told AFP in the village of Pyutar, 40 kilometres (25 miles) south of Kathmandu.

"The next day they cut my skin with blades. I could not bear the torture and I confessed to being a witch just to save my life."

Hundreds of Dalit women are thought to suffer a similar ordeal every year in Nepal, where superstition and caste-based discrimination remain rife and where most communities still operate on strict patriarchal lines.

Human rights campaigners say the perpetrators of such crimes are rarely brought to justice, with police viewing the persecution of Dalit women as a matter for the community to sort out itself.

Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal has pronounced 2010 the year to end violence against women as Nepal makes the transformation from traditional Hindu monarchy to modern secular state.

But authorities in the impoverished South Asian nation admit they face an uphill struggle.

"Superstitions are deeply rooted in our society, and the belief in witchcraft is one of the worst forms of this," said Sarwa Dev Prasad Ojha, minister for women and social welfare.

"Such traditional practices cannot be wiped away overnight."

The Women's Rehabilitation Centre (WOREC), a local pressure group that campaigns for women's rights, says it has documented at least 82 cases in two years in which women who were tortured by neighbours on charges of witchcraft.

But coordinator Sarita Dahal believes this was only the tip of the iceberg.

"We believe many more women are going through the physical and mental pain that these superstitions cause," she told AFP.

"Many don't come to our attention because the women fear they will be abandoned by their families and ostracised from their communities if they come forward."

Nepalese law prohibits violence against women, but Dahal said it was rarely enforced, particularly when the victims were from marginalised groups.

Experts say superstitions about witchcraft are often merely a pretext for victimising women, and sociologist Suraj Kafle points out that it is almost always low-caste women who face such accusations.

"It is always socially and economically vulnerable women who suffer," said Kafle.

"This is simply an excuse to torture poor women who lack support from the rest of the community. Poverty and lack of education make them an easy target."

Nainakala Thapa, head of the government's National Women's Commission, called the practice a "national shame".

"Women who belong to low-caste groups are made scapegoats because they cannot defend themselves," said Thapa.

Thapa pointed out that when a person dies or falls sick it is often spiritual healers looking for someone to blame who are the first to make accusations of witchcraft.

"It is easy to identify a low-caste woman and brand her a witch," she said.

For Biswokarma and her family, now back in their home village after a stay in a women's refuge in Kathmandu, the stigma of being accused of witchcraft persists.

"I am still afraid because some of the people who tortured me are still in the village," she said.

"I have lost my dignity, but I have not given up hope. I will fight for justice."

Source: AFP

Post a Comment

Comments should be on the topic and should not be abusive. The editorial team reserves the right to review and moderate the comments posted on the site.
Notify me when reply is posted
I agree to the terms and conditions

News A - Z


News Search

Medindia Newsletters

Subscribe to our Free Newsletters!

Terms & Conditions and Privacy Policy.

Find a Doctor

Stay Connected

  • Available on the Android Market
  • Available on the App Store

News Category

News Archive