Kovind clears Assam Bill against witch-hunt

It prescribes a prison term of up to seven years

President Ram Nath Kovind’s assent to the Bill against witch-hunting that the Assam Assembly passed three years ago has rejuvenated the campaign of a barely literate 65-year-old woman against superstition that has claimed scores of lives.

“We can now tell the people that they cannot get away with killing or maiming people in the name of witchcraft,” Birubala Rabha told The Hindu from her village Thakurbhila in Goalpara district on Monday. Ms. Rabha has been campaigning against witch-hunting after a quack almost killed her son in 1996. She stood her ground despite the threat of excommunication by the local shaman and went on to rescue over 50 women from being branded as witches before launching Mission Birubala against the menace.

On Sunday, Principal Secretary (Home and Political) L.S. Changsan said the State received the President’s approval for the Assam Witch Hunting (Prohibition, Prevention and Protection) Bill, 2015, on June 13. The State has already notified the Act.

Ms. Rabha’s inputs had gone into the legislation, making every offence under the Act “cognizable, non-bailable and non-compoundable.” The Act prescribes a prison term of up to seven years and up to ₹5 lakh in fine for calling a person witch. It also has provisions to come with Section 302 of the IPC (punishment for murder) if someone is killed after being branded a witch. The punishment for leading a person to suicide may be extended to life imprisonment and up to ₹5 lakh in fine.

Another important person behind the legislation is Director-General of Police Kuladhar Saikia. As Deputy Inspector-General in Kokrajhar, he launched Project Prahari in 2001, which blended normal policing with social campaigns to check the menace.

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