Ramechhap woman beaten to death on witchcraft chargesWhile incidents of grave abuse of human rights continue in the district, victims rarely come forward with complaints.
Tika Prasad Bhatta
Bibi Majhi died a cruel death at the hands of her fellow villagers on Sunday morning. A resident of Sitkha village in Khandadebi Rural Municipality Ward No 3, Majhi, who was in her mid-fifties, was beaten to death on charges of practising witchcraft and “causing disharmony” in the community.
Majhi’s mother, Suna Maya Majhi, 70, was also not spared. Beaten ruthlessly, Suna Maya has suffered serious injuries and is currently receiving treatment at Manthali Hospital, according to police.
What triggered the incident was a ritual practised by the Majhi community, an ethnic group mainly residing in the hill districts of Bagmati Province.
Sohrashradda, a 16-day period dedicated to paying homage to the dead, is a significant occasion for the Majhi community. The members of the community visit the river banks and worship and summon ‘pitri’, their dead ancestors.
The worshippers believe that the dead person’s soul enters a living person’s body. The person then goes into a trance. The spirit is believed to have entered the body after the host starts experiencing convulsions.
On Wednesday, after the rituals at the river bank, the villagers took the possessed person back to the village to keep the soul of the departed with them for worship the following day. The spirit is supposed to leave the host body on the third day after another elaborate ritual by the river bank.
But in this instance, the soul of the departed refused to leave the host body, indicating that the ‘pitri’ was unhappy.
The villagers then went looking for Bibi, who was previously accused of witchcraft, and reached her house at around 9am on Sunday. They then proceeded to beat her indiscriminately. According to witnesses, a black cat appeared at Bibi’s house. The villagers did not spare the cat either—they killed the cat and burnt it. By then, Bibi had already succumbed to injuries.
The villagers then dragged Suna Maya, Bibi’s mother, outside the house and thrashed her. Suna Maya was rescued by the police, who reached Bibi’s house at around 11am and sent her to the hospital.
Yamuna Khatri, a local woman who reached Bibi’s house while the elderly woman was being beaten up, tried to stop the villagers. “I tried to stop them but they didn’t relent,” Khatri said. “I informed the other villagers who must have called the police.”
Twenty-two people, including seven women, have been arrested for investigation, according to the District Police Office in Ramechhap.
The suspects, in their statements, said Bibi was killed by ‘pitri’, according to Deputy Superintendent of Police Raj Kumar Thing. “Detailed investigation is underway about the crime committed in the guise of rituals,” Thing said.
Police detained 18 people from the incident site on Sunday and four others were held on Monday. “The accused argue that they did not kill the woman. They blame the ‘pitri’ for her death,” said DSP Thing.
Gyan Kumar Shrestha, chairman of Khandadebi Rural Municipality, said superstitions are still rife in the villages. “I heard that a similar incident occurred in the Lugughat area of Ramechhap a few years ago. It is unfortunate how these incidents occur even in this day and age,” Shrestha said.
Belief in superstition and the abuse of human rights that comes with it is widespread in Ramechhap. While incidents of grave abuse of human rights continue in the district, victims rarely come forward with complaints.
“We don’t have any formal complaints from victims of superstitious beliefs,” Thing said. “Even if it happens, the locals rarely involve the police in these matters. We only come to know about it after the incident has happened like in Bibi’s case.”
The 2015 Witchcraft Act prohibits any accusations of witchcraft and stipulates a jail term of five to ten years and a fine of Rs50,000. But accusations of witchcraft, almost always followed by acts of violence, continue across the country.