Possessed by Greed

The enduring human toll of Assam’s witch-hunts

Birubala Rabha braved a social boycott to raise awareness about witch hunting and support survivors. Somsubhro Sarkaar / Myidentitymypride
01 October, 2020

“This process will never come to an end,” Lakhyamati Daimary told me. “For as long as you make sure that the villagers keep believing in daina-daini”—the Bodo term for witches—“you don’t need any other way to fool them to get your work done.”

In 2014, Lakhyamati, a cook at a primary school in Jangalgaon, a village in Assam’s Udalguri district, was accused of practising witchcraft. “My brother-in-law said that my daughter’s friend had been possessed by Aai Goxani”—a goddess associated with smallpox, also called Sheetala—“and that she had claimed I was a witch, who would wreak havoc in the entire village,” she said. “How does a 16-year-old girl claim such things and the villagers believe her? You tell me.”

Lakhyamati did not take the accusation seriously at first, she added, “but then the villagers started coming to our house one after the other.” They attacked the family, severely injuring her husband and four children, and burned down their house. At a public meeting, Lakhyamati was forced to eat human excreta as punishment. The villagers demanded she leave the village with her children, or they would kill the entire family.

Although the family left for a relative’s house in Kokrajhar, they returned to Jangalgaon a month later, with the local police and the All Bodo Students’ Union helping them resettle despite widespread opposition. Most of their assailants fled the village for a few months, and no arrests were made. Their case is pending in the high court. “We are still trying to forget the atrocities that were inflicted upon us,” Nandeshwar, Lakhyamati’s eldest son, told me. “We are still in the process of bringing normalcy to our day-to-day life.”

Hrishita Rajbangshi writes and edits stories for Spotlight Northeast, an independent website producing digital news in Assamese and English. She has previously been an intern at The Caravan and The Citizen. She received the Zubaan Sasakawa Peace Foundation Grant in 2018.