Birubala Rabha, who fought against witch hunts in India, dies at 75

Victims of witch hunts face horrific punishments, according to “Contemporary Practices of Witch Hunts,” a 2015 report by the Indian nonprofit legal organization Partners for Law in Development. They may be subjected to “forced stripping,” the report says, “being paraded naked in public, having their hair cut or tonsured, blackening their faces, cutting off their noses, pulling out their teeth to ‘take it off,’ gouging out their eyes, whipping, gang rape, forced consumption of human excrement, cow dung” or “killing by hanging, hacking, lynching or burial alive.”

Ms. Rabha traveled from village to village in Assam to speak out against the practice and declared that there was no such thing as “daini” or witches. She had long been suspicious of popular superstitions and healers who chanted incantations over young women to ward off what they believed were evil spirits. When she was a young mother, a local healer told Mrs. Rabha that her mentally ill son would die soon; he did not do it. That false prediction, in the 1980s, was the seed of her advocacy work, which she began in earnest around the year 2000.

That year, she demonstrated at a meeting in the town of Lakhipur, also in Assam, to support five women accused of witchcraft; He did not back down when hundreds of villagers surrounded her house the next day.

Usha Rabha recalled her first rescue mission with Ms. Rabha, in 2006, when a mob armed with sticks surrounded them in a neighboring state. “I was terrified,” she said. But Birubala was “completely unfazed,” Rabha said. When the police came to rescue the two women, she said, Birubala “reprimanded the police saying, ‘I will not stop until I finish the job I do.’”

In Assam in the 2000s, Birubala Rabha allied himself with the state’s former director general of police, Kuladhar Saikia. “She would come to see me, she would meet with me and discuss these issues,” Saikia recalled in an interview, adding: “she told me that she was fighting against social injustice.”

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