Public awareness drive, along with the involvement of witchdoctors, can help control the cases of witchcraft

Practising witchcraft is an evil act punishable by the law of the land. However it is widely practised in rural parts of the country due to superstition, illiteracy, lack of public awareness, poverty and social and economic disparity. Most of the victims of witchcraft are women from humble socio-economic background, single women, differently-abled women, who are subjected to ill-treatment and torture on charges of practicing witchcraft. These categories of people are accused of being witches when their neghbours or family members die or fall ill due to whatsoever reasons. The victims are sometimes smeared with soot, forcefully fed human excreta, beaten up, ostracised from the society or in some cases, beaten up to death. Most of the perpetrators include family members, neighbours and witchdoctors and shaman. Even if the victims of the witchcraft allegation are reported to the police, influential local people try to settle the cases within the villages offering them of financial compensation. Law has defined that accusation of witchcraft is a heinous form of violence against women and the people from poor family background. Such incidents are the result of unequal power relations between men and women, who are deprived on property rights and access to law.

According to the statistics provided by the Nepal Police, it registered a total of 61 cases of witchcraft accusation and subsequent torture across the country in the fiscal 2020-21, which is an increase by 79.41 per cent compared to 34 cases of witchcraft accusation in the fiscal 2019-20. Police said 80 perpetrators of witchcraft charge-related violence were recorded in this period.

All of them were booked for indulging in illegal action. The RIRs were lodged either by the victims themselves or by their family members.

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

As per the act, the perpetrators shall be liable to a jail sentence of up to 5 years along with a fine of up to Rs 50,000. If a person working in a government office commits such a crime, s/he shall be handed out an additional three months' jail sentence, in addition to the punishment prescribed by the law. If the perpetrator fails to pay compensation to the victim on the ground of his/her poor financial status, the government will make necessary arrangement to provide compensation to the victim through the government's Gender-based Violence Prevention Fund. The legal provision alone is not enough to curb the ill-practice of witchcraft prevalent in the society.

Massive public awareness campaign, along with the involvement of witchdoctors and shaman, can help control the cases of witchcraft. Elected representatives at the local levels can also play a vital role in preventing the witchcraft practice that, in some case, leads a victim to commit suicide due to humiliation.

Those who are suffering from whatever illness should visit health centre or consult a doctor for timely treatment, instead of visiting a witchdoctor.

Since we cannot completely get rid of the witchcraft practice overnight, we need to educate the witchdoctors and shaman so that they can advise the people to visit the health facilities before it is too late.

UTHP in operation

After two months of its formal inauguration, the Upper Tamakoshi Hydroelectric Project (UTHP) has finally begun commercial production. The commercial production of the 456-MW project, which faced numerous challenges ranging from natural calamities to border blockade during the construction period, clearly reflects that a mega development project can be easily constructed with the domestic investment.

UTHP, one of the national pride projects, was built by the state-owned Nepal Electricity Authority with the investment of Rs 84 billion though it was initially estimated to cost just Rs 35 billion.

Though it took over a decade to complete the runof-the river project, the UTHP has set an example that Nepal can also develop a mega project using domestic resources without seeking a foreign investment.

NEA, Nepal Telecom, Citizens Investment Trust and Rastriya Beema Sansthan are the promoters of UTHP while the general public has also made a huge investment in it through its public offering. As the project has come into full operation, electricity is going to in surplus during the wet season. The government should prepare plans to best utilise the surplus energy by finding more domestic markets.

A version of this article appears in the print on September 7 2021, of The Himalayan Times.