The latest data by Nepal Police show unabated and rampant prevalence of violence against women in Nepal under accusation of practicing witchcraft.
Nepal Police recorded 46 cases of witchcraft accusations and subsequent torture at the various district courts across the country in the year 2018/19, 34 cases in 2019/20, and 13 cases as of mid-September in the current fiscal year.
Of the 51 victims in the year 2018/19, one was a child; two among 32 victims in 2019-/20 were kids; and one among 15 victims is a child in the current fiscal.
The country recorded 51 cases of witchcraft accusation in 2018-19 compared to 32 in 2019-20. Though the data indicate that the superstitious social malpractice is gradually reducing in number, the persecution and killing of women in the name of practicing witchcraft is still very much prevalent in Nepal.
Stating that accusation of witchcraft is also a form of violence against women, Nepal Police has said that such incidents result from unequal power relations between men and women.
Especially in the Tarai and hilly rural regions, one type of violence perpetrated against women is accusing them of witchcraft, which makes them vulnerable to abuse.
“Most of the witchcraft allegations in Nepal are based on reasons like making people or animals sick, casting a spell on food or drinks and making children sick. Diseases spread through epidemics are also said to be related to black magic. Most of the allegations are followed by beating of the victim and forcing the person to consume human excrement. Sometimes the victim is beaten to death. Though police record shows a certain level of witchcraft allegations, the number could be much higher than these figures as many cases remain unreported,” says a 2018 research study titled ‘Witchcraft Accusation and Persecution of Women in Nepal’.
According to Nepal Police, the perpetrators include family members, neighbours and so-called witch doctors.
According to Section 168 of the Criminal Code, those involved in the inhuman treatment of a man or a woman by accusing him or her of practising ‘witchcraft’ shall be liable to a jail sentence of up to five years, along with a fine of up to Rs 50,000.
If any person working at a government office commits such an act, he/she shall be handed an additional three months’ jail term, in addition to the punishment as prescribed by the law.
If the perpetrator fails to pay compensation to the victim on grounds of his/her poor financial status, the government will make necessary arrangements for relief to the victim through Gender-based Violence Prevention Fund.
However, laws and punishment do little to prevent such atrocities against financially and educationally underprivileged victims mainly due to lack of access as well knowledge about their rights.
Meanwhile, as a majority of people either come or are brought to shamans (Jhankri/“witch doctors”) because they show symptoms of psychological and mental health problems, such as fear, panic attacks, tight chest, depressed state, emotional breakdown, feeling heavy or down.
Rural Nepalis often seek spiritual treatment for mental health problems from Jhakri, which often leads to a guess that an ‘evil spell’ must have been cast on them by a witch (boksi) causing ‘insanity’, who then needs to be found and ‘punished’.
Hence, persons suffering from mental health problems, especially more severe conditions and/or intellectual disabilities, in some cases may be more vulnerable to being accused of being a witch due to the common belief that it is an ‘evil spirit’ in the person, which causes the symptoms or disability.
Nonetheless, only negligible number of research or policy-making process regarding the prevalence of witchcraft accusation in Nepal focus on the psychological aspect of the social malpractice. This not only affects the navigation and findings, but also negatively influences the laws and punishment.