Tireless efforts from Correspondent Nirmala Ekka and AALI have forced the officials to take action.
“At 11-11.30 at night I heard some men trying to enter the house. I got up to go to my mother’s room. But the men had already entered. They pulled my mother off the bed and she fell down. My sister grabbed her to protect her, but they beat her up severely too,” recalls Anu Khalko. The teenager is the daughter of Jacinta Toppo, one of the five women to be branded witches and killed on 7 August, 2015 in Jharkhand’s Kanjiya Marhatola village. The events of that night made national headlines. Reports quoting National Crime Records Bureau showed how this practice of attacking and murdering women in the name of ‘witch-hunting’ was on the rise across India. Jharkhand, with 220 cases of similar attacks recorded between 2008 and 2014, is also one of the few states that has a law that deals specifically with such crimes.
But what happened when the fickle media spotlight moved to more sensational happenings elsewhere? In Community Correspondent Nirmala Ekka’s video report shot a month after the events, a visibly disturbed Anu says “I still see the people who killed my mother. They walk about freely in front of my eyes. I feel really scared every time I step out and have to go to school.” The officials visited the village soon after the incident and assured the families of speedy action but these remained empty promises as the families of the victim lived in daily fear of further persecution.
But Nirmala did not give up. She decided to help the families pursue the course of justice. She contacted the Association for Advocacy and Legal Initiatives (AALI). Representatives from AALI met with the victims’ families and also met with the police to pressurise them to act on the case. Reshma from AALI says “The newspapers reported that the case will be heard in a fast track court and judgement given in 45 days. But nothing like that happened.” But thanks to the sustained pressure the hearing began in 90 days. AALI helped the victims’ families meet with government officials and ask for compensation, protection and speedy arrest of the accused persons. Kanak Lata, an advocate with AALI, is fighting on behalf of the families in court. “The trial is still moving at a very slow pace: the state really needs to speed the process up. We have been successful in getting all the accused arrested and the chargesheet was filed on time,” she says. The families of the victims have also received compensation of Rs 100,000 each.
Nirmala went back to the village to interview the families. She asks Anu, how the situation at present is any different. “Back then, I used to be very scared,” Anu says with a shy smile. “But no I am not as sacred. I still feel a little scared when stepping out at night. I’m afraid of them attacking me.” Anima, her older sister adds “In the village we do not have much interaction with the others–they don’t talk properly to us. Nirmala says that the compensation that as their due as well the arrest of the accused took a lot of time and effort. Presently, arrangements have also been made for the protection of the families. Thanks to Nirmala and AALI’s tireless efforts, today the families in Kanjiya Mahrtola are living relatively peacefully. But where is the accountability of the government? In other corners of the country hundreds of women are facing the same fate. Who is accountable for their safety from the violent patriarchal prejudice of witch hunting?
Article by Madhura Chakraborty