Human Rights activist Birubala Rabha was honoured with the Padma Shri award on 25 January 2021. The activist from Assam has been pivotal in campaigning against witchcraft and witch-hunting in her home state.
Rabha has been fighting for women for more than 15 years now. Having survived such atrocities, Birubala decided to challenge the malpractices. The formidable woman has travelled far and wide and spread awareness against the mistreatment by speaking at public meetings. “I am very happy with the honour. I have faced many struggles and even threats to my life for the work I have been doing… The recognition is the blessing of those who have supported us,” said Rabha.
Let us know more about her.
Birubala Rabha has faced many hurdles throughout her life. She was six when her father died. This forced her to quit schooling and assist her mother who was a farmworker.
At 15, she was married off and had to occupy herself with weaving and looking after her three children.
It was in the mid-1980s that her eldest son fell ill with typhoid. She had to take him to a quack who told her that her son would die because he was “under the spell of a fairy.” However, her son lived and stopped visiting quacks who were ‘frauds’ according to her.
Over the years, she often heard rumours about certain women being ‘witches’ in her village. She came to know more about this when she started working with a group of women. From them, she came to know that some women from the neighbouring village had been brutally abused and banished for being ‘witches’.
“That is when I woke up. I went to the village and found that the women had been abused and were on the verge of being thrown out. I met the local leaders and related the story of my son. I told them there were no witches in this world, and the women should not be harassed,” she said.
Rabha has made schoolchildren aware of this dangerous practice as well. She has also fought for the protection of survivors by rushing into police stations.
In 2015, the Assam government got to know about her social work and even passed the Assam Witch Hunting (Prohibition, Prevention and Protection) Act. Rabha has rescued many women from the clutches of witch-hunting.
Birubala Rabha was honoured with the Women’s World Summit Foundation (WWSF) prize in 2018.
The Xavier’s Foundation in association with Gauhati University awarded her with a certificate for her work. She has also been the recipient of a $1000 cash prize by the WWSF-Women’s World Summit Foundation, Geneva, Switzerland.