20 February 2013
Rupandehi, Western Nepal – In a small rural community, a 28 years old woman accused of witchcraft was beaten by villagers. Supported by ASF’s partner – the Forum for Protection of People’s Rights (PPR) – and legal aid lawyers, she filed an official complaint with the police and brought her case to the local court. Accusations of witchcraft are recurrent in remote villages in Nepal, and are generally prompted by underlying socio-economic issues. Victims of these accusations based on deep-rooted practices and related violence – sometimes leading to death by burning – are commonly women living in vulnerable situations.
Laxmi Dangoriya lives with her family in Pathaarganj of the Motipur Village Development Committee, in the Rupandehi District, 300 kilometers from the capital city of Kathmandu. On 26 January 2013, Laxmi Dangoriya was accused of witchcraft by villagers. “One of my neighbours was sick. Someone then said that the sickness was caused by witchcraft and a makdum baba (local priest) was called for treatment”, she recounts. “He pointed at our house and villagers started to accuse me of being a witch. They first threatened us, and then beat me, my husband and my father-in-law”.
Laxmi’s family first tried to file a complaint with the local police but after inaction on the part of the police, they informed the legal aid lawyer of the district bar association of their misfortune. ASF’s partner – the PPR – was also called in for support. The victims received legal counseling and assistance in filing the official report required for the opening of a criminal case. As part of typical ASF action, “we help the local police collect evidence and we support the victims to go to trial”, explains Gopi Parajuli, ASF Head of Mission in Nepal. “In the five districts where we work, we also organise regular meetings involving legal aid lawyers, bar associations, and representatives of the judiciary”. The objective is to fight practices prohibited by law, such as accusations of witchcraft.
These traditional practices unfortunately often still take place in villages like Pathaarganj. There is no exact data available but observers report an increasing number of similar incidents, with some 100 cases in 2012, including in Kathmandu. “Victims are mostly illiterate women living in poverty who do not generally have the necessary means to protect themselves. What happened to Ms. Dangoriya is a gross violation of her human rights, especially of her rights to a dignified life and development”, says lawyer Sunil Kumar Tripathi of the Rupandehi Bar Association who intervened in this case, now in court.
“The villagers who accused me of witchcraft threatened to banish me from my village but once I was able to access justice, I regained hope for a better life and future”, recounts Ms. Dangoriya. “Our family is poor so I am very grateful to the lawyers and ASF for having provided me with legal aid at no cost”.
ASF activities providing free legal aid services to the population are financed by Belgium’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The Forum for Protection of People’s Rights is a non-governmental organisation established in 2002 advocating and working in the area of human rights and access to justice in Nepal.
For more information, visit ASF in Nepal.
Featured Image: accused of witchcraft, Laxima Dangoriya (left) was able to go to Court thanks to ASF support