Assam’s moment of shame
Assam is not a safe place for women. Every second day for the past several years the media has been reporting stories of elderly women who are labelled “witches” being brutally killed. The latest incident (February 12, 2012) occurred in Tezpur in Sonitpur district where Lakshmi Gaur was murdered and buried. The day before, another 45-year-old tribal woman, a mother of 5 children, was burnt alive, also for “allegedly” practising witchcraft. This was in Sonari in Sibsagar district. Although the phenomenon is common among the Bodos, the social malady is fast spreading across the state.
Till date, not a single article has appeared in the newspapers of Assam to challenge this shocking, inhuman behaviour. Yet the state claims to be a culturally evolved habitat of highbrows. Assam has a rich literary culture but perhaps there are too few women columnists. The galaxy of male writers is unlikely to take up an issue concerning women. They are more comfortable writing about politics and the more eclectic issues of statecraft.
Women who are branded witches are usually elderly widows or spinsters and the reason for killing them is to usurp their property. That such brutality can be allowed to happen with such impunity in the 21st century shows the complete failure of the state. Can kangaroo courts made up of mindless mobs be the judge and jury and give the call to “kill” someone because she is “allegedly” a witch? Where is the scientific evidence? How can anyone possess super-human powers to cause harm to another human being? Can the state simply sit back and watch while this pernicious witch-hunt against women of a certain age continues?
As a woman I am saddened that women with 4 and 5 children should be murdered through the active connivance of their own children. I am sure that all other women in the villages of Assam, with grown up children and who are no longer in a position to perform hard manual labour or to earn and invest in the family kitty, will be feeling very insecure. They, too, might wonder when they will be branded witches and done to death. The killings are so brutal that one wonders which age Assam is living in? Is this 21st century Assam whose metros are dotted with swanky malls and palatial homes? That barely 200 km away there are acts of savagery the state in unable to prevent?
I want to ask the Government of Assam and the 2 women parliamentarians – Bijoya Chakraborty and Rani Narah – what they have done to contain this menace of witch-hunting of their own kind? Are they aware about the ritual of first accusing women of practising witchcraft and then lynching them to death? Is this not the single biggest threat to all women widows of Assam across society? Have these 2 women leaders called public meetings to awaken society to this atrocious gender discrimination? Why are only women accused of having the powers to practice witchcraft? And why are widows the targets? I want to ask the district administration of Sonitpur whether the body of Lakshmi Gaur has been exhumed and cases drawn up against her killers.
How many past cases of witch-burning and witch-killing have there been in that district? What is the fate of the accused? Are they out on bail? Have they been acquitted? We need to know this and we need to know it fast.
No popular government can stand by and allow these archaic practices to continue in the age of rocket science. Some women activists I spoke to said they rushed to these places when they heard of such witch-hunts but were unable to do much since the communities were wildly averse to any outside interference. Apparently the district administration also prefers to look the other way. Is the state not supposed to defend the weak? But in the case of poor, widowed women, there are obviously very few people to take up their cause.
Last year, on a visit to Bongaigaon for a meeting largely attended by Bodo people, one heard this issue of witch-hunting being discussed. The majority of people at the meeting were men but they seemed to feel the agony of helpless women meeting a cruel end after they had performed their maternal duties. One learnt, as one had done in the past too, that the prime reason behind the killing of elderly women was to get hold of their property, which had probably come to them after the death of their husbands. The sons are impatient to wait for their mothers to die natural deaths so they connive to kill them, albeit with an excuse that they are witches, so they escape arrest. This has to be the grossest violation of human rights in Assam today.
Assam is also known for its academic and intellectual grasp. But the scholars have skirted this issue. Is it because the subject is not as explosive as insurgency? Truly, the hypocrisy rankles. And what about women’s studies centres and women’s organisations across the state? Why are they allowing a mob to rule the fates of women?
This is a time when we need the likes of a Raja Ram Mohan Roy to lead the campaign. In his time, Ram Mohan Roy fought the evils of sati and child marriage. Today, someone with courage must emerge to challenge the witch-hunting of elderly women.
Sadly, the media too has paid scant attention to witch-hunting. The story of the 2 women who were killed within a day of each other after being accused of practising witchcraft received scant reportage. No comments were taken from the district administration as to why it could not prevent the killings. No coverage was given about the reactions of the people around that village. Did they all believe that Lakshmi Gaur was a witch? If so, how did they arrive at that conclusion? Is there anything suspicious behind her killing?
I know such investigations are the work of the police, but aren’t we journalists also supposed to do our own spooking so we can arrive at the truth? This could trigger some concerned citizens to start a campaign against this systematic, ruthless extermination of elderly women. There is no bigger curse for a woman as when her own son or daughter is unable to protect her life or becomes a conspirator in her death. It’s time for women’s organisations across the country to intervene. This outrage against women has to stop.
(The writer is Editor, The Shillong Times)(Courtesy: TS)
Unwanted pregnancy and abortion
This is a topic, seldom discussed or preached! However, the value of life is a matter of concern to every human being, no matter what kind of upbringing, religious or social background each person belongs to. The issue of ‘unwanted pregnancy and abortion’ is therefore real. It is, in fact, a reality which we are faced with almost every day.
Every one of you reading this, alive, is because of the choice your parents, especially your mother made; the wisest choice to love, protect and nourish you in her womb and give birth to you. Sadly, even as you read, thousands of unborn babies in our country, trapped within their mother’s womb are pleading, “Mommy! Please don’t kill me! Don’t abort me away! I don’t want to die! I want to live! Mother�! Please protect me�continue to keep me safe in your womb, if only for a few more months� PLEASE �!”
My fear is the pleas of these precious, innocent, unborn babies are being ignored. They’re being given over to be killed, just to cover up the mistakes of adults, or a crime or even to make life convenient. And, as if to get rid of the guilt and emotional baggage such an act would bring upon them, the baby is given a cold, soul less but medically correct term called the “fetus”
Picture this scene of an abortion:
As the Doctor’s busy surgical scissors and forceps invade the baby’s safe place (womb) the unborn baby shrieks and cries “Mommy! They are going to kill me! Look! They are cutting off my hands, feet, and my body, please do something! Why are you just lying there? Run away! Please protect me! ” As the Doctor’s forceps is about to crush the baby’s tiny head, he says with his last breath”Mommy, I was longing for and counting the days when I would get to see you, but since you won’t help me, I die. But mommy, you are still my only mommy and I still love you�”
As graphic and ghastly as it may sound, this is the fact about abortion. And yet, every day, thousands of unborn babies are allowed this cruel death right under the watchful eye of those very people whose responsibility it is to cherish, protect and nurture them.
I cannot think of a more wicked and severe crime than slaughtering totally helpless, innocent, unborn babies, through abortion, in the very womb which is meant to love, nurture, provide and protect. Whatever circumstances the baby might have been conceived in, whatever the situation the mother or family is faced with, the unborn baby is not at fault, the baby is innocent! Why pay for it with its life?
How grievous it is, if the only way to continue to live one’s life is at the cost of killing one’s own baby, using the innocent baby as a shield to protect the interests of grownups, when it should be the other way round?
I believe after reading this, if you come across anyone faced with such a situation, then it won’t be another coincidence but a divine appointment for you to extend the life of a tender soul, struggling with the option of life and death. Instead of pitying or condemning the mother, family or any person involved in the unwanted crisis of a pregnancy, by saying ‘she should have never gotten into this in the first place’, how about raising a voice on behalf of the innocent unborn baby, to tell them that ‘Abortion is not the solution to unwanted pregnancy’ and connecting them to people who are ready to help provide them with an alternative to abortion.
Will you consider being an Ambassador for the unborn babies with the life line of Hope?
The writer, Ms. Moamenla Jamir is the Founder & Director of Mother’s Hope an organization that helps young girls/women and their families going through crisis pregnancies. To know more please visit www.mothershope.in