Birubala Rabha : Tirelessly fighting against the social evil of witch-hunting
Source :NewsBharati   Date :21-Mar-2018
Birubala Rabha has been tirelessly fighting against the social evil of witch-hunting since the 1980s and is now a household name in Assam. Recently, she won the prestigious Upendra Nath Brahma Soldier of Humanity award in Kokrajhar. Witch-hunting is a process of tracking down people deemed as witches, which often involves episodes of public frenzy. Although it seems like an outdated idea and concept, in the Kokrajhar district of Assam, witch-hunting is not uncommon.
 

It is during calamities that the true nature of a person takes shape. From being branded a witch to being nominated for the prestigious Nobel Prize in 2005, the benevolent life story of Birubala Rabha is no less a benchmark of human endurance, patience, determination and hardwork. Birubala is now an institution in itself, a protecting womb for the vulnerable ones a protective mother for victims of crime guised under the name of witch hunting often carried out by perpetrators satisfying their personal grudges. Throughout the length and breadth of India, hundreds of murders had been committed in the veil of witch hunting where predominantly the victims are women.

Early Life:
Birubala Rabha was born in the year of 1949 in a remote village located in the Assam-Meghalaya border named Thakurbila in the Goalpara District of Assam. Her days of struggle started from an early age when she lost her father at six. Her mother worked as a midwife in the village assisting child births throughout the village and had to leave her child behind to cater to daily household activities by herself. Being a meticulous student and a hard worker from her early days she was popular name among her teachers but unfortunately had to quit her studies in 3rd standard subjugating to the persistent poor economic conditions of her family and was Finally married off at the age of 15. Birubala had to start her household responsibilities and conjugal life at a very tender age. However her Industrious character made her a well known weaver in traditional handloom weaving, also bringing in the necessary extra cash to support her families day to day economic needs. Her peaceful conjugal life was shattered when her 12 year old son fell ill with a kind of mental ailment along with her husband subsequently falling ill later to be diagnosed with Cancer. Some jealous neighbours and local quacks started putting the blame of her husband’s illness and son’s ailment on her, charging her of practicing witchcraft and black magic. Even in those days of extreme hardships Birubala never lose her determination. From taking care of her ailing child and husband to founding the Thakurbila Mahila Samitee, Birubala kept her social commitments of catering and uplifting the women folk in her village. In 1992 she led the formation of Borhjara Regional Mahila Samitee encompassing few more villages within the sphere of her work.

Making of Birubala:
During those unfortunate years of her sons’ Ailment, the local quacks predicted her child’s death within three days and that it was caused by an act of sorcery of some kind, but subsequent months proved that their predictions were wrong and her son though didn’t recovered from the ailment yet lived on. Somewhere from that point of Birubala started to realise these false claims and that they were completely motivated either by greed or by grudge towards someone. The 15th of September 2001 can be marked as a day that transcended Birubala into an institution. The Borhjara Anchalik (regional) Mahila Committee along with an NGO Mahila Samata Society organised a meeting at Dodan Mandir, Borhjara where taking a strong stand against witch hunting Birubala took a resolution dismissing the very existence of Witches. Her strong stand on the matter invited the wrath of local Charlatans and quacks who in turn instigated the fellow villagers to organise a village meeting in the following month to hegemonize her into rolling back her resolution on the existence of Witches. Even threats of dislodging her from the village couldn’t shake her will and her commitment. She refused to succumb to these threats. Till 2012 alone Birubala had successfully rescued more than 35 women from certain death in Witch hunting related Incidents. The inspiration that the name of Birubala itself portrayed among many lead to the formation of a progressive organization with a mission statement to rescue, rehabilitate and sensitize the public. Thus Mission Birubala came into existence institutionalizing her Vision under her leadership. Birubala quickly realised that only rescuing victims won’t eradicate the problem hence she started organising awareness camps sensitizing stake holders of the society against this social evil. Birubala is not just a name but a refuge for victims of this social evil, Birubala a true jewel of this Nation.

Witch hunting: Issue analysis
The details available on this social evil is gruesome and truly makes the need to eradicate such evil at the earliest in a war-footing manner . The National Crime records Bureau (NCRB) reports murder of 768 women within the period on 2008-2012 on suspicion of being a witch and causing calamities in villages. The cases of murders related to witch hunting is rampant in areas that lack the key development indicators like access to healthcare facilities and education along with the reach of law and order agencies.

The belief in spirits is widespread among remote-rural communities where people lack accessibility to healthcare facilities. Such type of factors encourages belief in malevolent spirits being associated with a particular kind of disease or calamity. It is again a popular believe that these malevolent spirits execute their sorcery through a medium and in this case the medium being a witch, the search for the witch arises. The fake clairvoyants then designate a person of being a witch, which often ends with capital punishment awarded by local kangaroo courts.

“Birubala Rabha is a true jewel and an inspiration for social workers. Christian missionaries, the self proclaimed torch bearers of reform should learn from Birubala Rabha’s selfless service to the society executed without any vested agendas. May many more like her come forward to work for the society above agendas and other benefits.”
- Swapnil Shermale, IFNE, Intellectual Forum of Northeast



To understand the level of Superstition rooted in various communities, the following table can provide us to get a better picture:

List of Malevolent Spirits that causes diseases and calamities

Sl. No

Name of spirit

Name of Disease caused

1

Baisayali/Bichayali bai

Rheumatism

2

Bakhra

Not Known

3

Bangra/Bangra Bai

Body Wounds

4

Bima/Baima Bai

Abortion/stomach pain during pregnancy

5

Bira Bai

Madness

6

Budha/Buda Bai

Post-Natal complicacies

7

Garo Garowani

Not Known

8

Hudum Bai

Joint Pains

9

Jakhani/Jakhani Bai

Incessant crying in Children, Associated with Fainting

10

Jakua/ Jhakua/ Bakra (Bar Bakra, Mazukilla Bakra, Chuta Bakra

Body Pain Continuous fever

11

Khetor

Various diseases in children; attacks children in dreams in the form of wild animals

12

Khism/ Khicham Bai

Various eye diseases

13

Khusami Bai

Fever in the evening

14

Konchu Bai

Not known

15

Kama/ Kama Hachu Bai

Leprosy

16

Kuber Bai

Dyspepsia; various other ailments

17

Lambang Bai

Continuous ill health

18

Maira Bai

Headaches

19

Marang Bai

Epidemics

20

Rambang Bai

Epilepsy in children

21

Singra Bai

Fevers

22

Tikkar Bai/ Daini

Stomach pains, headaches, etc

 An incident in 2014 caused a massive alarm among socially aware masses of Assam when a national level athlete who also happens to be a gold medallist, Shmti Debonjoni Bora was branded a witch following the deaths of four villagers even when one among them had actually committed suicide. Following the village court’s decision she was branded a witch and had to face unspeakable mental and physical torture. Later her relatives rescued her and had to be admitted to a hospital for treatment. At the time of this incident Mrs Bora was preparing for her National games and this incident too like all others was inspired by personal enmity and jealousy. In view of such incidents the Assam State commission for Women constituted a select group for drafting a special law on witch hunting. The draft was later submitted to the Assam government in 2012. Later the Assam state legislature passed an Assam witch hunting (prohibition, prevention and protection) bill in 2015. Though such laws are necessary yet implementation and awareness on the same remains a challenge which can only be achieved through active public participation.


The name of Birubala is an inspiration for many and with many more following her example we shall be successful in eradicating the social evil very soon.