The Madhya Pradesh High Court on Thursday issued notice on a plea filed against the infamous practice of witch hunting, prevalent in the state.
The bench of Justice SC Sharma and Justice Shailendra Shukla has listed the matter for hearing next month.
Witch hunting, which is prevalent in several states leads to dispossession, torture and murder, on an allegation that a person is a witch. The seriousness of this crime may be inferred from the fact that there have been several instances where the victims of Witch Identification, Branding and Accusation have gone through serious psychological problem and even committed suicide. Reportedly between 2005 and 2016, the number of deaths caused with the motive of witchcraft has increased to two-hundred.
The Petitioner, Aman Sethiya, has thus approached the high court seeking directions to the state government to come up with legislative or administrative measure in order to curb this practise.
It has been asserted that the state has wilfully neglected this subject-matter of concern and has failed to protect its citizens' right to life guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution as it has not taken effective measures to protect its citizen against arbitrary and preventable losses of life.
The Petitioner has contended that the State is flouting the directions issued by the NHRC to take appropriate actions in that behalf, based on the premise that it is a mere recommendation under Section 18 of the Protection of Human Right Act, 1993.
"the usage of the expression "recommend" in Section 18(a) can be treated by the State Government or by an authority as merely an opinion or a suggestion which can be ignored with impunity. In our view, to place such a construction on the expression "recommend" would dilute the efficacy of the Commission and defeat the statutory object underlying the constitution of such a body," he submitted.
"the Commission is not merely a body which is to render opinions which will have no sanctity or efficacy in enforcement, cannot be accepted. This is evident from the provisions of clause (b) of Section 18 under which the Commission is entitled to approach the Supreme Court or the High Court for such directions, orders or writs as the Court may deem fit and necessary. Governed as we are by the rule of law and by the fundamental norms of the protection of life and liberty and human dignity under a constitutional order, it will not be open to the State Government to disregard the view of the Commission," he continued.
He has further submitted that despite the scaling number of such crimes, the State Crime Record Bureau does not maintain or publish the statistics of witch hunting in the State. This omission he asserts will act as an impediment in formulation of an efficient preventive strategy.
"No crime other than murders and culpable homicide not amounting to murder relating to witch-hunting has been recorded by the State Crime Record Bureau which ultimately declares such data incomplete and incompetent enough for the authorities to take corrective measures for the prevention of the activities related to witch-hunting in the state of Madhya Pradesh."
He has thus prayed that directions be issued to the National Crime Record Bureau and State Crime Record Bureau to record and prepare statistical record of all specific crimes.
The petitioner has based his claims on Constitutional Right, rights conferred under the International Conventions where India is a signatory and Protection of Human Right Act, 1993 to provide adequate and sufficient protection to a citizen.
India is signatory to the Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, and the Convention Against Torture. Pertinently, "these covenants in combination impose an obligation on [India and on] the State of Madhya Pradesh to take affirmative measures to prevent gender- based violence, especially when violence often results in murder or culpable homicide not amounting to murder."
To this effect, the Petitioner submitted,
"International law is not merely binding on the national government; rather, states too must ensure, through legislative and executive acts and court decisions that they are in compliance with international treaties and covenants. Therefore, the international obligation to prevent witch-hunting extends to the State of Madhya Pradesh as well."
Reliance was placed on Article 51 of the Constitution which provides that a state should "endeavour to.... foster respect for international law and treaty obligation in the dealings of organized people with one another." This provision, as per the Petitioner, provides "a self-evident directive" that the state must comply with international law.
Reference was also made to the United Nations General Assembly's Resolution Extra-judicial, Summary, or Arbitrary Executions, adopted in the year 2009, that urges states to, "Ensure that the practice of extrajudicial, summary, or arbitrary executions is brought to an end and ...... take effective action to prevent, combat, and eliminate the phenomenon in all its forms and manifestations."
The plea also focuses on the State's obligation to protect its people from inequalities, discriminations, torture and cruel, inhuman or derogatory treatments. It referred to the ruling in Ramlila Maidan Incedent, In Re, (2012) 5 SCC 1, whereby the Supreme Court laid emphasis on Article 355 of the Constitution and mentioned the security of the citizens without violating human dignity is the primary task of the state.
The Petitioner also finds the role of Aghori and Ojhas as the main instigators behind branding the victim as witch. Allegedly, they manipulate the public by promoting themselves in several newspapers and through pasting posters in public places and public transport. He therefore questions the development of scientific temper, humanism and the spirit of inquiry which is enshrined under Article 51-A (h) of the Constitution.
In these circumstances, the Petitioner has prayed that the state authorities should start educational and social awareness campaigns in order to make people beware from this superstitious practise. He has further pleaded that the state should prevent the promotion and publication of misleading advertisements of ojhas and should impose heavy penalties on the person who is preparing, printing, and publicising such materials.
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