Rajasthan woman branded as 'witch', tortured

Jaipur, India - A 35-year-old woman was made to lie on embers and searing hot tongs were placed on her body after she was branded a "witch" by her family members, including her husband, in Rajasthan's Pali district, police said Saturday.

The woman has been admitted to a hospital here with severe burns on her face, stomach and other parts of her body. Her husband, brother-in-law, sister-in-law and a quack have been arrested.

The incident took place in Keshavnagar.

"The victim, Nargi Devi, was brought to her brother-in-law Pukhraj's house by her husband Chunni Lal from their village Rani for curing some ailment. Pukhraj said that there was some evil spirit which had caused the ailment and they should approach a quack whom he knew," a senior police officer said.

The quack, Usha Meena, claimed that Nargi was a witch as soon as she saw her.

"To free her from the evil spirit, Usha made her lie on hot coals. She was pushed on the coals and Usha placed hot tongs on her body," said the officer.

He added that some neighbours heard the victim's cries and informed the police, after which a team was despatched to the house.

"The woman's condition is critical, but she is out of danger," the officer said.

The practice of branding women as witches and torturing them continues unabated in the remote rural areas of Rajasthan.

Earlier, in the last week of May, a 30-year-old woman was also branded a witch and tortured in Padardi Mewada village of Dungarpur district. In the last week of July, a 35-year-old woman alleged that she was branded a witch by villagers, tortured and was being forced to leave her village, again in Dungarpur district.

The state department of women and child development has proposed a stringent law against women being branded witches.

According to the draft Rajasthan Women (Prevention and Protection from Atrocities) Bill, 2011, a crime would be considered to have been committed when any person or community intentionally or inadvertently abets, conspires, aids and instigates the identification of a woman as a witch leading to her mental and physical torture and humiliation.

The bill has proposed a maximum of seven years' imprisonment and fine for those who grab the land of such women after forcing them to leave their house.

If a woman commits suicide after being termed a witch, the accused shall be given a prison sentence of not less than five years, which can be extended to 10 years, with a minimum fine of Rs.25,000. The fine can be enhanced to Rs.50,000, the draft bill says.