A tribal labourer, his wife and four children — the youngest a three-year-old girl — were hacked to death here Sunday night, allegedly by fellow villagers, on suspicion of practising witchcraft. The attackers reportedly used a sharp weapon and an axe for the crime.
Gura Munda (40), who worked as a labourer in the nearby iron ore mines, his wife and six children— residents of Mundasahi village, atop the Lahanda hill, in Joda block of Keonjhar district — had gone to bed when they were attacked.
Shortly after midnight, at least five persons reportedly stormed into Gura’s home and stabbed him, his wife Budhini Munda, and six children — sons Sunil (16), Ganita (18), Kushanath (10), Sambhunath (9) and daughters Sambhari (12) and Namita (3). Only Ganita and Sambhunath survived.
“Last Tuesday, some villagers had a meeting in which they accused Munda of practising witchcraft. The children of few villagers were not keeping well for some time and they suspected Munda to be behind it. People here are mostly illiterate and would believe anything they are told,” said Ajay Pratap Swain, sub-divisional police officer, who is investigating the case.
Police said they have identified a witness in the case and are likely to arrest all the accused soon. They have already arrested Tamba Munda, the elder brother of Gura Munda, on charges of orchestrating the murder. At least four-five other tribals who reportedly took part in the killings, are on the run.
“The assailants were in an inebriated condition when they went to Gura’s home and killed all of them in their sleep,” said a police official.
Ganita Munda was believed to be dead till a policeman found out that he was still breathing.
“He was pushed aside by the assailants after he was stabbed,” said a villager. His younger brother, Sambhunath Munda, was rushed to the SCB Medical College in Cuttack after his condition became critical.
Meanwhile, the state government has ordered a CID probe into the killings.
Incidentally, this is the fourth case of witchhunting in Keonjhar in the last one year. Despite a series of awareness meetings, five tribals have been murdered in the district.
The village, located on a hilltop, is a steep walk of 500 metres from a nearby school. Though surrounded by iron ore mines of Tatas, Jindals and other big players, it hasn’t seen much development. Only 30 homes have electricity connections.
“No official comes to our village,” said a villager. Though the state in December 2013 passed Orissa Prevention of Witchhunting Act that makes every offence under the Act cognizable and non-bailable, there have been several cases of assault related to witchcraft this year. At least 278 people have been killed in Odisha in the last five years over witchcraft charges.