The Indian Woman Who Hunts Witch Hunters
Birubala Rabha is an Indian activist who campaigns against witchcraft and witch hunting in Goalpara, Assam. She has been campaigning against witchcraft and witch-hunting in Assam, fighting for the cause for more than 15 years now by appearing at public forums. Rabha has traveled far and wide to spread awareness about the mistreatment of women.
Born in 1954 in the remote village of Thakurvila, Goalpara in Assam-Meghalaya border, Birubala Rabha completed her formal education upto 5th standard only. She faced several challenges throughout her life. Her father died when she was six, forcing her to leave school and help her mother who was a farmworker. She was married off when she was 15, and occupied herself with looking after her three children, and weaving. However, when her son Dharmeshwar was branded as a witch owing to his mental illness, Birubala’s struggles worsened. The incident dates back to 1985 when her son was not only shunned by the society, but was also denied medical treatment due to the wide-spread accusation of being a witch. Having no means to proper medical care, Birubala had to guide her son to a quack, in the hopes of finding a cure. However, he tried to convince her that her son was going to die as he was under a spell. He went on to further put the blame on her for being a witch herself. This was eventually proven wrong, and her son went on to live a long life. Birubala stopped visiting quacks who, in her opinion, promoted fraudulent activities and only pretended to have cures under the guise of superstitions.
Her own share of struggles led her to start working with a group of women, where she was drawn to similar stories of other people in her village who were also being labeled ‘witches’. She also learnt about the cases happening in a neighboring village where several women were ill-treated and exiled after being branded as ‘witches’.
“That is when I woke up. I went to the village and found out that the women had been abused and were on the verge of being thrown out. I met the local leaders and related the story of my son. I told them there were no witches in this world, and that women should not be harassed,” she said. Involved in various social activities since her childhood, Birubala took an active part in the fight against superstitions and witch-hunt in Assam. In 2005, the Northeast Network nominated her for the Nobel Peace Prize.
She never slowed down in her efforts and began running ‘Mission Birubala’ as a crusade against witch-hunting and other social evils in Assam in 2011; demanding the implementation of strict laws against the same. In 2015, the Assam government passed the Assam Witch Hunting Act after learning about Rabha’s social work. Many women have been rescued from the threat of being hunted as 'witches'. Birubala Rabha proudly proclaims herself to be a ‘tribal village woman;’ who has been able to save the lives of over a hundred people from witch-hunting almost single-handedly. She was honored with the honorary Doctorate at the 25th convocation in Gauhati University by the then State Governor P.B. Acharya.
In 2018, Birubala Rabha was honored with the Women’s World Summit Foundation prize. The Xavier’s Foundation, in association with Gauhati University, awarded Rabha with a certificate for her work. She has also been a recipient of a $1,000 cash prize from the Women’s World Summit Foundation, Geneva, Switzerland. On January 25, 2021, human rights activist Birubala Rabha was honored with the Padma Shri award.
A non-profit making progressive organization, ‘Mission Birubala’ is continuing with their commitment towards providing support to the survivors of witch hunting and developing a scientific outlook among the community members who believe in such superstitious acts.
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author's. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of The Critical Script or its editor.
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