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Odisha's approval to "Prevention of Witch Hunting Bill' certainly a new beginning
Science opposes superstitions and a superstition opposes science. But both have their strong existence in human mind. In an endeavour and commitment to counter superstition and black magic related crimes in the state and protect women from being branded as 'Witch' through the prevalent hunting and other similar practices, finally a bill on witch hunting i.e. 'Odisha Prevention of Witch Hunting Bill' got approval of Odisha assembly on December 5, 2013 after a marathon debate of nearly five hours before it was agreed with the support from Opposition.

With this bill Odisha became the fourth state in the country after Bihar, Chhattishgarh and Jharkhand to have special legislation against the practice of witch-hunting. Earlier last year a division bench of the Odisha High Court had directed the State Government to enact law to tackle the menace of witch-hunting effectively.There should be strenuous efforts to spread awareness to eradicate the superstitions among the people the bench had ruled.

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Piloting the bill on behalf of Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, Parliamentary Affairs Minister Kalpataru Das reportedly said, “The age old superstition of witch hunting and other similar practices prevalent in the society are curse to the humanity.”

It was found that women were deliberately being branded witch by men after they failed to exploit them sexually or to snatch their properties. "Women have been killed, tonsured, sexually abused and put to unbearable punishment after branding them witch” said Das.

The proposed legislation stated that whoever commits witch hunting or abets or provokes for witchcraft shall be punishable with imprisonment up to three years besides fine of not less than Rs 1000.

Expressing his deep concern over frequent barbaric murder of women branded as witch, the Minister said,“whoever forces any woman to drink or eat any inedible or obnoxious substance or parade her naked with painted face or body or resorts to any act which is derogatory to human dignity will be punishable with imprisonment for a term not less than one year which may be extended to five years with fine.”

The punishment would be harsher for a person committing a crime under this bill for a second time as it is stated in the legislation that if any person already convicted under this Act commits such offence again, the punishment can be jail term of three years which may be extended up to seven years and a fine of not less than Rs 10,000. The bill also has provisions of penalty for a witch doctor, a person who claimed to be black magician.

In an era of modern scientific revolution none can deny that some part of our society is still living in an age old beliefs and dogmatic notions in some corners of the social order in general and Odisha in particular.

So it was really an ardent need to address the woman atrocities and brutal violence on woman in the form of witch-hunting that was so prevalent in the state. At such juncture the anti-witch hunting Bill is surely a rescue and will prove to be a deterrent of such crimes.

Certainly for people of Odisha…..it is a new beginning!!!

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