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Witch-hunting still active, says HC as it denies bail to men who ‘killed’ woman with trident

Justice S.K. Panigrahi pointed out the lack of a central law to deal with witch-hunting. IPC provisions applicable for the crime aren't as effective in deterring criminals, the court said.

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New Delhi: The Orissa High Court has said that witch-hunting is “still very active in the 21st century” despite scientific temper having reached its pinnacle.

The court made this observation Monday while refusing bail to two men who were accused of murdering a woman they believed had possessed an “evil spirit”. They had allegedly assaulted the woman with “trisul/trident, crowbar and iron rod” in April 2018.

Justice S.K. Panigrahi also pointed out the lack of a central law to deal with witch-hunting. Besides Odisha, the court noted, several states like Bihar, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra and Karnataka have enacted laws criminalising witch-hunting.

“The fact remains, in the absence of a central legislation it has resulted in lack of uniformity in the application of law across the country. The provisions of the Indian Penal Code, although applicable for the crime associated with the menace, have not proved to be as effective in deterring these criminals,” the court observed.

The judgment noted that the victim was unwell for a few days before her death and had visited her maternal uncle, Rame Murmu, a “self-styled supernatural medicine expert”.

She died on 25 April 2018 after Murmu, his wife, two sons and the elder son’s wife tied her up and assaulted her. The judgment said all the accused allegedly believed “some evil spirit” had overpowered the woman’s body, resulting in her “abnormal behavior”.

All of them were charged with several provisions of the Indian Penal Code and those under the Odisha Prevention of Witch-Hunting Act, 2013. Barring the two sons, all others were granted bail in August 2019.

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Bail applicants assaulted woman

The two sons, who have been in custody since 26 April 2018, had approached the court demanding to be released on bail.

The court, however, noted that the other accused who had been given bail earlier were merely present during the attack. The bail applicants, it noted, were the ones who had assaulted the woman.

The court also took note of the fact that several witnesses in the case had turned hostile allegedly due to the “dominant position” of the accused in the area.

“It is to be kept in mind that given the fact that the principal accused i.e. Rame Murmu masquerades as a ‘witch doctor’ claiming to possess supernatural powers, the witnesses who are yet to depose need not be exposed to any further fear psychosis,” it observed.

Also read: Madhya Pradesh HC asks POCSO accused to plant trees for bail, trial court to track growth


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