A woman has been tortured by her neighbours for two days and forced to eat human waste before she finally gave in and confessed to practising witchcraft.
Those who beat, punched and kicked Kalli Biswokarma, 47, accused her of casting evil spells on a schoolteacher who had fallen ill in the village of Pyutar, 40 kilometres south of Nepal’s capital, Kathmandu.
“I was victimised because I am a poor woman,” said Ms Biswokarma, who belongs to the Dalit community – the untouchables on the lowest rung of Nepal’s rigid Hindu caste hierarchy.
“Around 35 people came to my home and took me away. They trapped me in a cow shed and forced me to eat faeces and drink urine.
“The next day they cut my skin with blades. I could not bear the torture and I confessed to being a witch just to save my life.”
Hundreds of Dalit women are thought to suffer a similar ordeal every year in Nepal, where superstition and caste-based discrimination remain rife and where most communities still operate on strict patriarchal lines.
Human rights campaigners say the perpetrators of such crimes are rarely brought to justice, with police viewing the persecution of Dalit women as a matter for the community itself to sort out.
Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal has pronounced 2010 the year to end violence against women, but authorities in the impoverished nation admit they face an uphill struggle.
“Superstitions are deeply rooted in our society, and the belief in witchcraft is one of the worst forms of this,” said Sarwa Dev Prasad Ojha, minister for women and social welfare.
“Such traditional practices cannot be wiped away overnight.”
The Women’s Rehabilitation Centre says it has documented at least 82 cases in two years in which women who were tortured by neighbours on charges of witchcraft.
Experts say superstitions about witchcraft are often merely a pretext for victimising women.
For Ms Biswokarma and her family, now back in their home village after a stay in a women’s refuge in Kathmandu, the stigma of being accused of witchcraft persists.
“I am still afraid because some of the people who tortured me are still in the village,” she said.
“I have lost my dignity, but I have not given up hope. I will fight for justice.”