BIRUBALA Rabha - Assam, India

A COURAGEOUS OPPONENT of witchhunting

Although this candidate (69) has already been widely acclaimed andhonoured, her nomination is more than merited and would draw attention to what is still a major issue in the Third World and costing worldwide many lives of rural women: sorcery.

Despite all the honours heaped on her, at 69 she still earns her living as a day labourer! For WWSF, this is also a way of widening our nomination range. Since 1995, this “petite“ but immensely courageous woman has been fighting witch hunting for many years all alone. She has faced life threatening attacks, social isolation and many other forms of aggression while trying to save the victims of witch hunting. This  agressive cultural belief is still very active among the tribal and Adivasi (indigenous or aboriginal) communities in India, which make up 8,6% of the population (well over 100 million). In Assam, the practice is closely related to the lack of health care. People resort to traditional healers and quacks. When the patients do not recover, these quacks are quick to lay the blame on some vulnerable member of the community: unmarried women, widows, the elderly are then branded as witches. The victims are then beaten, buried alive, or forced to undergo horrific rituals.

Hailing from a poor family, orphaned at six years old, married at 16, Birubala bravely faced the challenges of raising three sons and a daughter. Her son was labelled a witch by the villagers, and this started her life-long mission of defending the victims of the aggressive cultural practice of witch hunting. For years she faced the challenge all alone but victoriously, travelling from village to village, from school to school, offering hope to the victims, arousing fear in the perpetrators by making them accountable for their actions and saving many lives.

Slowly, the story of Birubala and her gutsy crusade (she all alone saved 35 women from death) started making headlines in the local press. This simple woman in her handwoven clothes became the poster girl for a new campaign for change and modernity, and in 2012 an enthusiastic group of her supporters and social activists launched Mission Birubala and the website www.missionbirubala.com This novel mission aims at reaching out to witchhunt victims and bringing about changes in the outlook of isolated rural communities, of which there are so many in India. So far, the Mission has saved well over 100 lives.

Her nominators believe the international recognition of the WWSF prize will go a long way to rally the support of the nation in little by little outlawing this dangerous and barbaric practice.

Her work contributes to achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals-Agenda 2030 - Targets #3, #4 and #5.