Images can be truly deceptive. After an almost three-hour long journey through the interiors of Jharkhand, Abhik Bhattacharya and Md. Asghar Khan reached Birbans village of Saraikela–Kharsawan to meet Padma Shri Chutni Mahato, whose commendable work against witch hunting won her the award in 2021. A short woman in her late 50s stood in the large courtyard watching the visitors place chairs for the interview with her son’s help. They were sure that it was her. But when they asked her if she was Chutni Mahato, her immediate response was: “No”.
They were about to call her son to bring his mother, when they heard the same woman say, “Mein hi hoon Chutni Mahato. Ye mera double role hai (Yes, I am Chutni Mahato. It is my double role).” She wore a broad smile that reflected empathy and affection. It lightened the atmosphere as all, including her son, had a hearty laugh. It was necessary. In the next few hours, they spoke to her about her abandonment, humiliation and dispossession and her fight against witch hunting. The survivor–activist has rescued and rehabilitated more than 140 women. Edited excerpts.