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Nepal: Dalit Woman Accused as Witch - Severly Abused

Women's Feature Service
http://www.wfsnews.org/
India - New Delhi

Nepal: Dalit Woman Accused as Witch - Severly Abused

By Renu Kshetry

Kalli Kumari B.K., 45, a Dalit woman, was the victim of a heinous crime - she was tortured, beaten and forced to eat human excreta. (Credit: Renu Kshetry\WFS)

Kathmandu (Women Feature's Service) - "My heart is not black, only my skin. I have aged and lost my teeth but that does not make me a witch," cries Kalli Kumari B.K., 45, of Lalitpur District Phyutar-7 in Nepal.

Recently B.K., a Dalit woman, was the victim of a heinous crime - she was tortured, beaten and forced to eat human excreta. The person who orchestrated this barbaric act was a supposedly educated woman: Bimala Lama. The principal of the local Gadi Bhanjyang Primary School, Lama accused B.K. of practising 'witchcraft'.

Ironically, despite the then deputy Prime Minister and Home Minister Bamdev Gautam ordering the police to issue an arrest warrant against her, Lama managed to flee. When human rights activists, journalists and police personnel arrived to arrest her, villagers ganged up and started attacking them. So far only three people have been apprehended and Lama remains at large. Rights activists have linked the delay in justice to the fact that B.K. is a Dalit, while Lama has close links with the local Nepal Congress Party.

On the evening of March 20, when B.K. was working in the fields with her husband, she was summoned to Lama's house. Oblivious to the horrors that awaited her there, she complied. As soon as she reached the house, Lama and her niece attacked her, accusing her of practising witchcraft on Lama and her ailing daughter.

The incident took place after local resident, Sherman Lama, blamed B.K. for Lama's daughter's failing health. B.K. flatly refutes the allegations, "I did not do anything. She (Lama) gave my daughter an old salwar-kurta (traditional outfit) two years ago. She then accused me of using it to practise witchcraft on her. She beat me till I bled. We may be poor but we do not stoop that low to harm others. In fact, I don't know what this witchcraft is all about."

Yet, so badly was B.K. tortured after being held all night in a locked room at Lama's residence, that she 'admitted' to being a 'witch'.

"It is a gross violation of human rights and it will have a severe affect on the Dalit community, both mentally and physically," said Dhan Kumari Sunar, a member of the National Women Commission. She added, "Our prime concern is to ensure that the culprit(s) are put behind bars and to rehabilitate B.K. so that she can live a life of respectability and security."

Sunar pointed out that it is only if the police catch the culprits would they be able to signal that such crimes will no longer be overlooked and ensure that incidents like these are not repeated.

According to legal provisions as per the new amendment to the 'Muluki Ain' (Country Code in Nepal), the culprit can get anything from three months to two years of imprisonment along with a fine ranging from Rs 5,000 (US$60) to Rs 25,000 (US$304), depending on the degree of the crime.

But this is certainly not the first time such a case has been reported. In Nepal, women from the marginalised Dalit ('untouchable') community are routinely accused of practising 'witchcraft' and tortured. Such instances strip them of their confidence and they live with the stigma forever even after being declared innocent, as some are.

In 2006, Dayawati Urab, 52, and her daughter, Sunita, of Sunsari district, were stripped naked, beaten and forced to eat human faeces for practising 'witchcraft' by the local community.

After the incident took place, Jagaran Media Center (JMC), an NGO that works for the rights of the Dalit community, said that this was the third time Dayawati was forced to eat excrement. In 2005, the villagers under the leadership of local political leaders fined her Rs 3,000, after accusing her of the same charge. Her husband, Tikaram, was also fired from his job. Dayawati has now been banned from participating in religious ceremonies. She has been so severely ostracised in her village that she cannot even make a living. "They [the locals] hold me responsible for all the accidents (like if anybody fall sick or there is a drought or loss of property by any means) that happen here," she said.

According to Purna Singh Baraily, vice president, JMC, "Cases involving Dalits are still not taken seriously and victims suffer throughout their lives. Yet nobody cares about them."

Although untouchability was abolished in Nepal in 1963, the practice still continues, with women from both Dalit and low caste communities in the Tarai region being constantly victimised for practising 'witchcraft'.

Referring to such women's lack of access to legal measures, Binod Pahari, Member of Parliament, observed, "Those who are already oppressed gets suppressed all the time."

Referring to police apathy in arresting the six accused in B.K.'s case, even after weeks have gone by, General Secretary of Dalit NGO Federation, Bom Bahadur Biswokarma, said that because of the government's lack of seriousness, victims hardly ever get justice. "In order to end superstition, the culprits should be punished," he reiterated.

Meanwhile B.K. hasn't fully recovered from the trauma she underwent. When asked what punishment she'd like to give Lama for her atrocities, she said, "I will not feed her human excreta as she did to me. My moral conscience will not let me do that. But I definitely want to kick her at least one or two times in front of all the villagers. She, and those who helped her, have to admit their crime before everyone in my village, so that they understand what it means to lose one's honour."

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