Guwahati: With attacks against persons suspected to be practising witchcraft on rise, the Assam government is planning to bring in an anti-superstition bill in the next session of the state Assembly.
Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi recently announced that the state government was contemplating to enact a law to put an end to the practice of witchcraft.
"There has been a noticeable rise in cases where people are getting killed after being suspected of practising witchcraft in Kokrajhar and Jorhat districts of Assam," he said.
The chief minister went on to say that apart from enacting a new law to eradicate the practice, the government would launch an awareness campaign.
In the last decade alone, Assam has witnessed nearly 100 killings as a result of various social evils practised by people inspired by superstition.
According to police records, 21 cases of witch-hunting were registered in 2006, followed by 7 cases in 2007, 10 cases in 2008, 4 cases in 2009, 11 cases in 2010, 29 cases in 2011 and 14 cases in 2012 across Assam.
Social activists in the state have welcomed the proposed initiative, but pointed out that if it was not given more teeth it would meet the same fate as happened in states like Bihar, Jharkhand and Chattisgarh where a similar legislation exists.
In those states, the law has failed to act as a deterrent since the provision of punishment enshrined in the law is mild. At most, the punishment amounts to three months in jail and a penalty of Rs 1,000.
The Assam State Commission for Women has on several occasions urged the state government to immediately formulate a law with an aim to combat the menace of increasing crimes on the pretext of superstitious belief.
"There has been a significant rise in the number of cases related to violent incidents, particularly against women, on the suspicion of practising witchcraft and black magic," ASCW Chairperson Meera Barooah said.
The Journalist Forum Assam has urged the government to enact a law against superstition on the lines of an ordinance recently passed by the Maharashtra government.
The state has witnessed the killing of an RTI activist and anti-superstition crusader Dr Narendra Dabholkar.
The president of the Journalist Forum Assam, Rupam Barua, regretted that despite concern expressed by social activists and organizations over suspected witch hunting in Assam from time to time, matters had not improved.
"We strongly support the demand for a strong law against superstition and urge the chief minister to take initiative for the same without delay such that the victim families can get justice," he said.
Social activist Dibyajyoti Saikia, who has been engaged in campaigning against such practices and related violence, said the law proposed to be enacted in the state must be strong so that it acts as a deterrent for people committing this crime.
He suggested that the punishment should range from a minimum imprisonment of one year to life sentence and the fine from Rs 5,000 to Rs 50,000 for those convicted in cases under the law.