In southern Nepal, women are still being accused, tortured and attacked for being witches. After falsely accusing *Sumitra of practising witchcraft, a mob beat her almost to death.
In male-dominated Nepalese society, single women continue to be accused of being witches, especially in rural areas in the south of the country.
Sumitra, a 65-year-old widow from Madhavnarayan, Rautahat, was accused of practicing witchcraft by her community. Sumitra has lived alone for the past 16 years following the death of her husband and only son, and the marriage of her daughter. She has spent the majority of this time helping vulnerable members of her community.
A brutal attack
Sumitra was invited to her neighbours’ house to perform religious rituals for their newly purchased motorbike. After returning home, the same neighbour who had invited her for the ritual came to her house, bringing a large crowd with him.
“I was scared to see this group of people carrying weapons and sticks and calling my name. They dragged me out of my home and started beating me, accusing me of practising witchcraft,” says Sumitra.
“They were shouting, ‘You possess the power of witchcraft, and you are responsible for all the misfortunes, sufferings, illnesses, and loss of livestock and crops. We won’t let you live.’ I was utterly terrified but unable to stop their attacks, so I just let it happen,” she says.
After being brutally beaten, Sumitra was left unconscious. As soon as the mob dispersed, community members came to her aid and informed the police, and Sumitra was taken to the hospital at Chapur.
Sumitra’s suffered a severe head injury, and was admitted to intensive care.
Islamic Relief’s support
Islamic Relief staff were quickly informed about this brutal incident, and began helping Sumitra. An Islamic Relief counsellor visited her in hospital, and provided much-needed counselling. We also paid for Sumitra to receive life-saving emergency treatment.
“I don’t remember anything since they brought me to the hospital. After several hours, I opened my eyes and saw my daughter, distraught and holding my hand. She was waiting for me to return to consciousness. She just hugged me, and we cried together,” says Sumitra.
Sumitra received her first round of counselling sessions at the hospital. She then received additional follow up sessions by Islamic Relief’s project counsellor after being released from hospital.
“I still cannot believe that I was accused of being a witch by the people that have been my neighbours for such a long time. I have not harmed anyone, and I can’t fathom how anyone could do what they did to me, and I pray no one else ever experiences it.
“The atrocity that I faced that day was terrible, and I am still unable to explain in words how terrifying it was for me. I nearly lost my life that day, and it is a miracle that I am still alive to tell my story,” says Sumitra.
Before the attack, Sumitra worked as a daily wage worker, where she earnt very little. Her relatives and daughter would support her by sending her money and food. Now she refuses to go outside, out of fear of being attacked again.
“I am so happy to see my mother alive. I have been trying to avoid looking at her head wounds, as it makes me upset knowing this mob so callously attacked a vulnerable older woman who had done nothing of what they accused her of,” says Sumitra’s daughter.
“It makes you lose faith in people, but thankfully, Islamic Relief support has reminded me that there is a good person for every bad one. Their life-saving treatment and financial support helped us through these horrible times. I am also thankful to the counsellor who remained with us during those difficult moments by reminding us to stay strong, especially when we didn’t know if my mother would survive.
“I am planning to take my mother home with me, and she will stay there until she recovers properly. Police have arrested one of the accused, and legal proceedings are ongoing. The others involved have escaped, but every effort is applied to search for them. I hope that all of them are caught and get the justice they deserve,” she says.
Find out more about our work in Nepal and the lifesaving support we provide to people who face gender-based violence in their communities.