A 35-year-old woman has alleged she was branded a witch by villagers, tortured and was being forced to leave her village, in the second such case in two months in Rajasthan's Dungarpur district.
The woman told police Thursday that her husband Manilal Parmar was also beaten up in Dowada village, about 500 km from state capital Jaipur. A case has been registered against three villagers.
"A group of people came to my house July 4 and started beating me. They said I was a 'dayan' (witch). The torture has been going on since then," the woman said in her complaint.
According to police, an inquiry has been ordered.
"They ostracised her and claimed she was a 'dayan' and possessed an evil spirit," a senior police officer said.
He said a first information report (FIR) has been registered against three villagers. "Some others were also involved. They are being identified. We are conducting raids," he said.
The practice of branding women as witches and torturing them continues unabated in the remote rural areas of Rajasthan despite claims by the state government to come up with a stringent law against it.
In the last week of May, a 30-year-old woman was also branded a witch and tortured in Padardi Mewada village of the district.
Sources in the state home department said police have registered only 24 such cases in the past five years, though NGOs say the actual number is much higher.
"Chargesheets have been filed in 22 cases, while investigation is pending in the remaining two," a senior police officer said.
The Rajasthan government is also to file a reply in the high court next week over the measures being taken to curb the practice after some NGOs, including the National Federation of Indian Women through its secretary Nisha Siddhu, approached the court demanding a stringent law.
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 called 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 bill draft said.