The latest data by Nepal Police show unabated and rampant prevalence of violence against women in Nepal through accusation of ‘practicing witchcraft’. The latest data by Nepal Police unveils that cases of witchcraft accusation increased by 79.41pc in fiscal year 2020-21.
Nepal Police registered a total of 61 cases of witchcraft accusations and subsequent torture across the country in fiscal year 2020-21 as compared to 34 in fiscal year 2019-20, an increase by 79.41 per cent.
Legal action was taken against 80 perpetrators on charge of meting out violence/torture to women by accusing them of ‘practicing witchcraft’ in fiscal year 2020-21. Most of the victims/survivors were women mainly from low-income families.
Meting out physical and mental torture to women by accusing them of ‘practicing witchcraft’ is a form of violence against women, and the social evil has been increasing at an alarming rate. According to Nepal Police, such incidents result from unequal power relations between men and women in society.
Especially in the Tarai and hilly rural regions, one type of violence perpetrated against women is accusing them of ‘practicing witchcraft’, which makes them vulnerable to abuse.
Senior Superintendent of Police Basanta Bahadur Kunwar, Nepal Police spokesperson, warned that the main reasons for the prevalence of such malpractices were superstition, illiteracy, social and economic disparity, and lack of public awareness, among others.
“Most of the witchcraft allegations in Nepal are based on reasons like making people or animals sick, casting a spell on food or drinks and making children sick. Diseases spread through epidemics are also said to be related to black magic. Most of the allegations are followed by beating of the victim and forcing the person to consume human excrement. Sometimes the victim is beaten to death. Though police record shows a certain level of witchcraft allegations, the number could be much higher than these figures as many cases remain unreported,” says a 2018 research study titled ‘Witchcraft Accusation and Persecution of Women in Nepal’.
According to Nepal Police, the perpetrators include family members, neighbors and so-called witch doctors.
According to Section 168 of the Criminal Code, those involved in the inhuman treatment of a man or a woman by accusing them of ‘practicing witchcraft’ shall be liable to a jail sentence of up to five years, along with a fine of up to Rs 50,000.
If any person working at a government office commits such an act, they shall be handed an additional three months’ jail term, in addition to the punishment as prescribed by the law.
If the perpetrator fails to pay compensation to the victim on grounds of their poor financial status, the government will make necessary arrangements for relief to the victim/survivor through the Gender-based Violence Prevention Fund.
However, laws and punishment do little to prevent such atrocities against financially and educationally underprivileged victims/survivors mainly due to lack of access as well knowledge about their rights.
Meanwhile, as a majority of people either come or are brought to shamans (Jhankri/“witch doctors”) because they show symptoms of psychological and mental health problems, such as fear, panic attacks, tight chest, depressed state, emotional breakdown, feeling heavy or down.
Rural Nepalis often seek spiritual treatment for mental health problems from Jhakri, which often leads to a guess that an ‘evil spell’ must have been cast on them by a witch (boksi) causing ‘insanity’, who then needs to be found and ‘punished’.
Hence, persons suffering from mental health problems, especially more severe conditions and/or intellectual disabilities, in some cases may be more vulnerable to being accused of being a witch due to the common belief that it is an ‘evil spirit’ in the person, which causes the symptoms or disability.
Nonetheless, only negligible number of research or policy-making process regarding the prevalence of witchcraft accusation in Nepal focus on the psychological aspect of the social malpractice. This not only affects the navigation and findings, but also negatively influences the laws and punishment.