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Meet India's 'Best Para-Legal Volunteer' Who Fought to Eradicate 'Death by Witchcraft'

Gope, who is now in her early sixties, defines her work as something she likes to do for the sake of humanity. She believes that someone had to "pierce through a very dark veil of superstition and illogical practices to educate people and help the ones in need."

Debayan Roy | News18.com

Updated:November 11, 2017, 6:24 PM IST
Meet India's 'Best Para-Legal Volunteer' Who Fought to Eradicate 'Death by Witchcraft'
Basanti Gope. (Image: News18)
New Delhi: A childhood in which one sees dogs running around with human legs in their mouths or realises the importance of ‘dignity after death’, is not usual. Since this is the life that Basanti Gope, from Chaibasa town in Jharkhand, lived in her very young, formative years, her childhood could be described as unusual.

But instead of incapacitating her, such experiences at an impressionable age made Gope help other people around her.

A social worker in her own right, Gope’s contribution to the rural population of Jharkhand was recently awarded when Union Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad declared her as the ‘Best Para Legal Volunteer’.

Prasad had said “the achievement by the Chaibasa lady was a great recognition for Jharkhand.”

Gope, who is now in her early sixties defines her work as something she likes to do for the sake of humanity. She believes that someone had to “pierce through a very dark veil of superstition and illogical practices to educate people and help the ones in need.” And that “someone” was of course Gope herself.

“I cremate the unclaimed bodies as per religious rites. I take the mentally challenged persons who have no one to look after them or are being abused, to be treated at Ranchi Institute of Neuro Psychiatry and Allied Sciences (RINPAS). I serve the paralysed and also orphan children within whatever means I can afford,” Gope told News18.

For Gope, a shocking incident in her childhood was enough to make her realise what she had to do in the future. “It was 1955 and I was three years old. During my washroom break, I saw a dog running away with a severed leg of an unclaimed body. It's that time I realised how fragile human life was. If couldn't ensure respect to a human being even after their death then we did not deserve to treated as human either,” said Gope.

Gope’s greatest contribution to society is her work of identifying mentally ill persons in Saranda forest villages and bringing them to RINPAS, Ranchi for treatment. But this task has “always been ridden with a lot of risk as people, who still lay their trust on magic more than medicines, have not been very receptive to such a move.”

She adds that the place where she comes from believes that mentally ill people can be cured by worshipping God alone and recounts a moving incident.

“Once there was a woman bound in chains all across. She had an iron leash even around her neck and could hardly eat or sit. When I persisted to take her to a mental hospital where she could be cured, I was threatened. They said that her mother does not want medical care for her and it’s only prayers that can help her.” It was only after threatening the relatives with police action that she got the victim to a hospital, for whose treatment she paid out of her own pocket.

Gope, who still lives in a rented house in Chaibasa dreams of affording her own house someday. But that does not deter the lady from giving shelter to those who need it the most. “Whenever there are people who have been abandoned my house is where they are welcomed,” said the para legal volunteer.

Although Gope had been involved in social work since her early years, she came in touch with Jharkhand District Legal Services Authority in 2005. Since then she has been acting as a bridge between the people who have no knowledge of legal aid and services, and of lawyers appointed by the DLSA to fight cases on a pro-bono basis.

But according to the people of Chaibasa, the other contribution of Gope which has helped in saving a lot of lives has been her solo effort to curb the practice of ‘Dayan Hatya’ or ‘Death by Witchcraft’.

“I arrange street plays to educate the masses about the most common evils. The most common problem is of ‘dayan hatya’ or ‘death by witchcraft’. In the saranda jungles, these deaths are very common along with chronic drug addiction. So through my plays I try to reach out to these communities to curb belief in such practices and it has indeed helped a lot,” said Gope.

Although Gope has not received any financial award, she is hopeful that the laptop she has received from the government will help her in teaching the tribal children at her night school in Madho colony.

“I hope people will come forward to help me. I am ageing now, but the young children of Chaibasa are brimming with energy and aspirations, all that they need is a guiding light,” signed off Gope.
| Edited by: Puja Menon
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