Guwahati: At least 161 people were killed in "witch-hunting" and other superstitious practices over the past 18 years in Assam, Social Welfare Minister Pramila Rani Brahma told the Assembly Friday.
Cutting across party lines, the members of the House urged the government to take urgent steps to generate awareness and support the victims of the social menace, which is still rampant in the state.
A total of 133 cases of witch-hunting have been registered across the state since 2001, Brahma said.
Witch-hunting is rampant across 17 districts of the state, with Kokrajhar leading the tally with 45 deaths, followed by Chirang with 24 deaths and Goalpara with 17 deaths, she stated.
Tinsukia and Udalguri have seen 15 deaths each during this period, while Nagaon witnessed 10 killings, Sonitpur eight and Karbi Anglong six, Brahma said.
Stressing the need for government support to the victims and their families, Congress MLA Durga Bhumij said that inhuman tortures are meted out to people as part of superstitious practices.
"The existing laws are not stringent as one can get bail in 15-20 days. Besides, the ongoing awareness campaigns are not sufficient and there should be budgetary provisions in this regard," the opposition party MLA said during the Question Hour.
Bhumij also alleged that the social welfare and home departments are not taking their responsibilities seriously.
BJP MLA Prasanta Phukan suggested that a mechanism should be developed to support the survivors and their immediate relatives, as most of them belong to the 'Below Poverty Line' (BPL) categories.
Sharing his views, AIUDF MLA Aminul Islam said the witch-hunting killings are nothing but a form of mob lynching, but there is no act to deal with such crimes in the state.
"After the Dokmoka incident of Karbi Anglong, the chief minister had talked about introducing a law to tackle mob lynching, but that has not been done as yet. So, I request the government to bring in a stringent law against mob lynching," he added.
Two men were lynched allegedly by local villagers in Dokmoka police station area of Karbi Anglong district in June last year on the suspicion of being "child lifters".
The Assam Police, on September 1, filed an 844-page chargesheet against as many as 48 accused in the case.
Bodoland People's Front legislator Thaneswar Basumatary and Congress MLA Kamalakhya Dey Purkayastha appealed to the members of the House to take initiatives in their respective constituencies to create awareness groups and launch campaigns to stop the menace.
Responding to the suggestions, Brahma said the government is considering the option of doling out financial assistance to the families of victims, urging the MLAs to back the NGOs that have been fighting the social evil.
"The social welfare department is working with the Assam State Women's Commission to create awareness among common people. It is primarily a law and order issue. So, the police needs to take action. We are taking steps to prevent the recurrence of such incidents," she added. PTI