Life has been a tough but fulfilling ride for 62-year-old Chutni Mahato. Once called a witch and almost on the verge of being killed for it, Mahatao has come a long way to being conferred with the Padma Shri for rescuing and helping hundreds of women from atrocities over the years.
For her unflinching work towards uplifting woman across her state, Mahato recieved the fourth highest civilian award in the country. She has constantly created awareness among the people of her village and even those outside and will continue to do so.
Tribal activist from Seraikela, Ms. Chutni Devi has single-handedly saved 60 women from Witch-hunting. For her acts of bravery, she is also famously called the 'Tigress'. She will be awarded the Padma Shri this year. #PadmaAwards2021 #PeoplesPadma pic.twitter.com/O15CGXkojk— MyGovIndia (@mygovindia) January 27, 2021
In an interview to The Telegraph, Mahato said she has been doing her work since the past 20 years and hopes to eradicate superstitious beliefs deep-rooted among the people so that the social evils of witch-hunting can be wiped off.
Hailing from the Bholadih village(130 kms from Ranchi) in Birbans panchayat of the Seraikela-Kharsawan district in Jharkhand, Chutni was married at the age of 12. With education not a strong point in the villages of India even today, this wasn't out of the ordinary for Mahato and so many other women in villages. But what followed soon after altered Mahato's life forever. In 1995, when the daughter of her elder brother-in-law fell ill, a village quack said that it was Mahato who had caused the illness as she was a witch. Villagers also fell for the accusation and they seized her property and subjected her to atrocities. They made her drink urine and even made her walk around in the village semi-naked.
Seizing an opportunity, Mahato ran away to save her life and went to her parents' house. As luck would have it, she was able to reach out to the Association for Social and Human Awareness (ASHA) who were also involved with the work against witch hunting prevalent in the villages.
Now decades later, Mahato has worked tirelessly and is now the in-charge of the rehabilitation centre of the Birbans panchayat. Headlining a team of over 90 women from different villages of the Seraikela-Kharsawan district, she ensures she and her are always keeping a track of any such unwanted incident that takes place. Mahato also has the support of the local administration and the police and they help her and her team out with any assistance they might require.
Chutni's has three sons, out of which two are married and she has ensured both her daughters-in-law are also following in her footsteps. Both of them have stood firmly behind her and go with her to the meetings and all the awareness drives her team conducts. They even ensure there are no lapses in the meetings in case Mahato is busy with some other work in her organisation.
Sangeeta Mahato and Anjana Mahato also often lead the teams in other activities involving the awareness drives. A survey by the state had back in 2019 reported 27 deaths related to allegations of witchcraft. Even last year till September 2020, 19 deaths occurred due to similar allegations. Most of these women are subjected to gruesome torture, sexual assault and then murder.