Biro Bala Rabha

Party pooper of primitive rituals

In rural India, hundreds of women face death each year accused of witchcraft. Illiteracy and magic are the demons that haunt these sinister trials. Under their spell, neighbors and friends become executioners of the innocent and helpless. But from a small village in Assam, one woman fights back. Superstition and evil have met their nemesis...

80_biro_bala_rabha_image1180_biro_bala_rabha_image2280_biro_bala_rabha_image3380_biro_bala_rabha_image4480_biro_bala_rabha_image55In many villages in tribal North East India, if a child gets sick it does not mean that there is a problem with sanitation. No! Clearly a vulnerable local woman is a witch and has brought misfortune to everyone. In most cases, this brutal game will end with the secret murder of the witch by the villagers. In this pointless, vicious way, between 150 and 200 women are killed every year.

Biro Bala Rabha, 61, has lived in Golpara, Assam, all her life. Many years ago, a witch doctor accused her baby son of being married to a fairy and gave him weeks to live. Aware that her son was ill and not possessed, Biro stood up for the life of her child. Decades later, he is still alive. After this experience, with her eyes cleared, using the case of her son as evidence that witchdoctors can be wrong, Biro began a crusade to defend women accused of being witches.

Superstition hides in a dark hole of illiteracy, a hole in which 38 percent of Indians are still immersed, and Biro believes that education is the key to solving the problem of witch-hunting. She operates with the support of the Assam Mahila Samata Society, an independent society that works towards the betterment of women in Assam. With unwavering determination, she travels between villages, holding public meetings to convince communities to take collective decisions against the barbaric practice. Her reputation has spread. Innocent women now have someone to go to when they are accused. Our illustrated episode is based on the story of Rutila Rabha, a poor tribal woman who lives in the village of Samaguri, Assam. Often a witch is named in order to take their land or to settle scores, and ultimately, Rutila’s case was settled in court. But Biro’s hardest and most important task is to prove to the women themselves that they are not witches at all.

Biro’s approach is logical; words are her most powerful weapons. She has been accused of being a witch herself, thrown out of towns, and threatened on many occasions, but she has never flinched. Her true heroism lies in refusing to remain silent, in refusing to be afraid.