Human rights activist Dibyajyoti Saikia has come down heavily on the Home Department of Assam as well as the State Government top officials for their “lacklustre” attitude in stopping social evils like witch hunting which is so rampant in the State.
“Even though President of India, Ram Nath Kovind, has approved the Assam Witch Hunting (Prohibition, Prevention and Protection) Bill, 2015, converting it to an Act, almost three years after it was passed by the State Assembly, on June 13 last, till date not a single officer in the Home Department has procured a copy of the same.
“Following the assent of the President on June 13, the State government published a gazette notification on June 30 but senior officials seemed to be ignorant of the fact and senior police officials are yet to receive a copy of the notification,” said Saikia while addressing media persons in Guwahati Press Club on Saturday.
Dibyajyoti Saikia of Brothers, a Guwahati-based social organisation, also demanded that the Assam Witch Hunting (Prohibition, Prevention and Protection) Act, 2015, be made public for spreading awareness among the people and allowing stakeholders to implement its provisions.
As the Sonowal Government was taking “no initiative” on the said issue, he questioned, “Doesn’t the State Government want that witch hunting should be done away with or does the Government support such superstitious beliefs?”
He also criticised the Chief Minister (CM)’s legal adviser Shantanu Bharali, “Why doesn’t Shantanu Bharali know about Act? Why is he not giving any importance?”
The human rights activist demanded that the Act be made public by Monday or Tuesday and that ‘Brothers’ would keep a hawk eye vis-à-vis the implementation of the Act.
“It is the duty of the State Government to implement the Act and create awareness among the people from the time it received assent of the President. But the Government published the gazette notification only on June 30. The Government has been mysteriously sitting on the Act and had not even sent copies of the notification to senior police officers who are entrusted with the duty of enforcing the penal codes in cases related to persecution of persons as ‘witches’. We urge everyone to shun the word ‘witch’ as nothing like that exists,” Saikia added.
Saikia said, “Our organisation has been in the forefront of the fight against so-called witch hunting and had mooted the idea of an Act in 2009. We organised several demonstrations at Last Gate in Dispur, and submitted a nine-point charter, containing the provisions to be included, to the then Chief Minister, Tarun Gogoi, and Assembly Speaker, Pranab Kumar Gogoi, on August 25, 2014. We also held several rounds of discussions with the Chief Minister in October and November that year. Gogoi gave us an assurance that such a Bill will be tabled in the Assembly. Eventually, an anti-witch hunting law was prepared by the Government and tabled in the Assembly, which passed it on August 13, 2015”.
Saikia said that the Sonowal Government spoke of spreading awareness against superstition,
rumour-mongering and fake news but even after receiving a potent weapon (the said Act) to fight against such practices, the Government seemed to be “unwilling” to actually implement the Act.
President Ram Nath Kovind has given his assent to the Assam Witch Hunting (Prohibition, Prevention and Protection) Act, 2015, that makes witch-hunting a cognisable, non-bailable and non-compoundable offence and is said to be the strictest in the country against such a crime. States like Bihar, Odisha, Jharkhand and Maharashtra also have anti-witchhunt laws but in a milder form.
The act, with provisions of jail term between seven years and life imprisonment and fine for intimidating a person by calling him or her a witch or any act leading or compelling the person to commit suicide was forwarded to the President in December 2015.