"People use to bang the doors at my face earlier but now all of them come to me with their problems and I feel happy to help them. I feel proud today to be part of Suraksha Program", says Sunitiya (name changed).
Her confident and energetic attitude towards life and work as a Community Mobilizer is a beguiling mask that conceals an extremely grueling and difficult experiences within the short span of her young life.
Sunitiya was labeled as a dayaan (witch) by the community members, she was subjected to severe hardships and humiliation. She belongs to Jharkhand, a state where the practice is a widespread and deep- rooted social morass. According to the National Crime Records Bureau, 220 people accused of witchcraft were murdered in the state alone between 2008 and 2013. According to Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia Director for Human Rights Watch (HRW), poverty and economic hardships are at the core of the problem. In an interview with TIME magazine she said, “When people are living in really harsh circumstances where they’re pretty much on the edge of subsistence or when a challenge occurs that they cannot help, they start looking for people to blame — whether it’s a poor crop or ill health”
The women branded as witches are subjected to numerous forms of torture: beatings, burns, being paraded naked through the village, being forced to eat human excrement, raped, having wooden or sharp objects inserted in her private parts. The Government has enacted several legislations to address the issue in particular like the “Anti Witchcraft Act” in 2001 to protect women from inhuman treatment as well to provide victim legal recourse to abuse in addition to the redress available in the Indian Penal Code. But the lack of national legislation and poor implementation of the law has meant an unusually heavy responsibility on the NGOs to rescue and rehabilitate victims, sensitize the police officials and generate awareness among the people.
Sunitiya is one of the fortunate ones who managed to escape the clutches of her tormentors. She attended the workshops and training sessions under the Suraksha Programme and is now a dedicated member of the team. She is a peer leader who advocates on the issue of human trafficking in her community and reaches out to the vulnerable women and girls. She works in coordination with the village Sahiya (ASHA Worker) and spearheads the meetings in the villages.