Truth and Rights

Truth and Rights in Nepal


400 years after widespread witch hunting ravaged Europe, today this problem is still at large in Nepal. The following photographs give a detailed picture of the human rights defenders working to find ways to stop this form of violence, stories of Nepali survivors of Witchcraft Accusation and Persecution, as well as the important role of shamanism in the beliefs of many Nepalis: Shamen to this day play a vital role in their communities, as educated, wise and trusted healers, providing much benefit to those who visit them. It is the abuse of this trust however which partly explains why a shaman is all too often involved when someone is persecuted as a witch.

Just like Europe in the 16th century, in Nepal today, some women are still being tortured and killed because they are believed to be casting evil spells on those around them.

The circumstances that lead to torture and murder in the name of witchcraft are not the same in every case, but the main factors that allow these atrocities to happen in Nepal are:

  • a patriarchal society and high rate of Violence Against Women,

  • a long history of widely held beliefs in black and white magic,

  • a low level of education (especially women),

  • a high poverty rate.

These factors are made worse and often multiplied in the countryside where over one third of the country's population live more than a two hour hike from the nearest paved road, meaning access to schools and health centres is especially difficult.

The geographical isolation of rural Nepali communities also adds to the difficulty of accurately gauging the number of human rights violations carried out in the name of Witchcraft Accusation and Persecution. Nowadays, Nepali public hear of witch hunting via the national media, with alarming regularity, however it is widely believed that those cases reported are merely the tip of a very large iceberg.

Most of Nepali society is deeply built on social status. The caste system for example, means you are born into a certain class, and most often it is the lowest caste (Dalit) who are blamed and abused as witches. The shame of being accused as a witch is so huge that very often there is nowhere to turn for help. Friends and family may not want to defend the accused as they are then likely to also be accused through their own defence. Add to this the often poorly trained and funded local police, who often have a patriarchal mindset and are also likely to believe in witches. Turning to them for help has historically not been much use, because if they wont register the crime, it can not be legally pursued any further, leaving accused women to suffer their own fate, alone. These are some of the reasons why Nepali human rights defenders are confident that the majority of atrocities carried out in the name of witchcraft go unreported.

However there is some good news. The new Constitution of Nepal, finally agreed upon in 2015, has enacted an anti witchcraft law that criminalises Witchcraft Accusation and Persecution. This is an important step for any country trying to combat this problem, however as pointed out by Nepali NGO INSEC, in 2017 no one has yet to be charged under this law.