Athlete Debjani Bora beaten in ‘witch hunt’

A National athlete has described how she was tied up and severely beaten after being branded a witch in her village in the north-eastern state of Assam.

Debjani Bora, a javelin thrower who has won several gold medals, fears her injuries may prevent her representing India in a forthcoming Asian contest.

One woman has been arrested for inciting a crowd to attack Ms Bora.

Witch hunts targeting women are common in parts of India and a number of those accused are killed every year.

Experts say superstitious beliefs are behind some of these attacks, but there are occasions when people – especially widows – are targeted for their land and property.

The latest incident took place earlier this week in Ms Bora’s home village in the remote hill district of Karbi Anglong, where she also makes a living as a farm worker and lives with her husband and three children

She was blamed in the wake of the the deaths of four people in the village, including one man who took his own life.

Police said villagers dragged her to a community prayer hall to face a “public trial on charges of being a witch”.

Ms Bora recounted her experience to journalists on Wednesday.

“Instead of finding out why all the deaths occurred, some village elders suspected a witch was driving the people to death and organised a prayer. As the villagers were chanting hymns, one elderly woman identified me as the witch and shouted that I should be punished,” she said.

“I was blamed for all these deaths in the village, wrapped up in fishing nets and beaten up severely.”

She was taken to a local clinic, where she regained consciousness on Wednesday.

Karbi Anglong police chief Mugdha Jyoti Mahanta said one woman was arrested on Thursday after Ms Bora’s family filed a complaint with the police.

“We suspect that she may have targeted Ms Bora for personal reasons,” Mr Mahanta said.

Branding women as witches is particularly prevalent among tribal communities and tea plantation workers in Assam.

Nearly 90 people, mostly women, have been beheaded, burnt alive or stabbed to death after such accusations over the last five years, police say.

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