Women continue to be subjected to ill-treatment and torture on the charge of practising witchcraft.

Statistics provided by Nepal Police show that it registered a total of 61 cases of witchcraft accusations and subsequent torture across the country in the fiscal 2020-21 compared to 34 in the fiscal 2019-20, an increase by 79.41 per cent. Eighty perpetrators of witchcraft charge related violence were recorded in this period. Officials said all of them were booked for legal action.

The security agency said the victims had lodged FIRs against the perpetrators themselves or through relatives.

Most of the victims are women, who mainly belong to low-income families. Statistics show that the harmful social practice has been increasing at an alarming rate. Accusation of witchcraft is a form of violence against women.

Nepal police said such incidents resulted from unequal power relations between men and women. The victims are often physically and mentally tortured after being accused of practising witchcraft.

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.

Usually, helpless women, single women and differently-abled women are accused of being witches when their neighbours or family members die or fall ill due to whatsoever reasons. The victims are sometimes smeared with soot, forcefully fed human excreta, beaten up, expelled from the village or even killed.

According to Nepal Police, the perpetrators include family members, neighbours and witch doctors.

The Criminal Code Act stipulates stringent action against those involved in the inhuman treatment of men or women accused of practising witchcraft.

As per Section 168 of the act, the perpetrator 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, he/she shall be handed an additional three months' jail term, in addition to the punishment prescribed by this law. If the perpetrator fails to pay compensation to the victim on grounds of his/her poor financial status, the government will make necessary arrangements to provide relief to the victim through Gender-based Violence Prevention Fund.

A version of this article appears in the print on September 6 2021, of The Himalayan Times.