Underlining a disturbing trend in Jharkhand, five tribal women, including a mother and daughter, were lynched in a village in Ranchi on Friday night for allegedly practising “witchcraft”. According to Jharkhand Police, as many as 49 people, most of them women, were killed for being “witches” in the state last year. This year, 12 people had been killed until March, the latest available figures with the police show.
Residents of Kajiya Maraytoli village in Ranchi’s Mander police station area allegedly decided to kill the women after a 17-year-old youth died four days earlier. The teenager had allegedly complained of abdominal pain, and a sorcerer from an adjoining village had blamed his death on witchcraft, police sources said.
By Saturday evening, 27 of the 50 people named in the FIR had been arrested. Among them are half a dozen women. Several accused are students of Mander College. Most of the accused belong to families of Army jawans.
Police sources said late on Friday night, over 70 residents of Kajiya Maraytoli gathered to discuss “ways to find a solution” to their and their domesticated animals’ recurrent ill health. The teenager’s death earlier in the week was trigger for the meeting.
After they allegedly decided to “solve the problem for once and all”, some youths dragged 53-year-old Etwaria Kholkho out of her home, accusing her of being a witch. They demanded she name the other “witches” in the village, and Etwaria reportedly named Madni Kholkho (55), Jasinta Toppo (40), Tetri Kholkho (40) and her elderly mother, Ratiya Kholkho. One by one, each of these women was brought out in the open and beaten to death by the villagers, who battered them with sticks, bricks and stones. The killers allegedly disfigured their faces after killing them.
Around 90 tribal families live in Kajiya Maraytoli. All of them bear the surnames Kholkho and Toppo. Some families are Christian.
Javed Khan, a local reporter, said most villagers stayed put in their homes after the killings, and surrendered to the police. SSP, Ranchi, Prabhat Kumar, said: “It looks like a clear case of lynching on suspicion of practising witchcraft. We are asking villagers to reveal the name of the person who provoked the killing.”
The alleged sorcerer who is believed to have instigated the mob is not among the 50 names in the FIR, police sources said.
“What is most shocking is the alleged involvement of youths who are studying to be graduates,” Khan said. The village, 27 km from Ranchi, has a primary school. Agriculture and daily-wage labour are the primary occupations. Several homes receive remittances from members of the family in the Army.
Jharkhand CM Raghubar Das expressed shock and grief over the killings. Such an incident in this day and age was “unfortunate”, he said. The state government has ordered distribution of interim relief of Rs 20,000 each to the families of the victims. State women’s commission chairperson Mahua Manjhi visited the village on Saturday.
Four months ago, a person was killed in a village of Chanho block on suspicion of practising witchcraft. Five of the 49 lynchings in 2014 were in Ranchi district, 11 each in Gumla and Dumka districts.