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The Nashik District and Sessions Court sentenced to life imprisonment 11 men from Igatpuri, all of them a tribal community, for killing two sisters suspecting them to be practising witchcraft. Two sons of one of the victims, Budhabai Punaji Dore, are among the convicts.
According to the police, the accused had tried to kill Budhabai’s daughter Rahibai Pingale too but she managed to escape. The October 2014 incident had initially remained under wraps as Rahibai refrained from informing the police about the murder of her mother and aunt. She lodged a complaint only two months later, after being persuaded by local activists.
The incident took place in Take Harshe village of Igatpuri taluka. On October 30, 2014, the police said, local “witch doctors” Bacchibai Khadke and Buggibai Veer told a gathering that Budhabai and her sister Kashibari Bhika Veer were witches and because of them women in the village were not having children. The duo claimed that the two women were supported by Rahibai and there was a need to exorcise the three by beating them up. The two then asked the gathering to assault the three and dance on them after pinning them to the ground.
Eleven local residents of Take Harshe, including Budhabai’s two sons Govind and Kashinath and the two witch doctors, took part in the beating. Rahibai ran away and managed to save herself, said the police. Budhabai and Kashibai succumbed to their injuries. The 11 accused subsequently carried the bodies to a nearby hamlet, Dahalewadi, and buried them. The accused also dumped the clothes that they were wearing during the assault in the pit.
According to the police, Rahibai was later caught by the accused who threatened to chop off her tongue if she spoke about the incident to anyone. Subsequently, people in the village started speaking about the possibility of the two women having been murdered. When local tribal activist Bhagwan Madhe got to know about it, he spoke to Rahibai and convinced her to file a police complaint. Rahibai finally lodged a complaint at the Ghoti police station two months after the murders. The bodies were subsequently exhumed and forensic analysis and postmortem reports showed they had died due to massive trauma injuries on chest and back.
Judge U R Nandeshwar found the 11 guilty of murder, attempt to murder and also of violating norms of the Maharashtra Prevention and Eradication of Human Sacrifice and other Inhuman, Evil and Aghori Practices and Black Magic Act, 2013. They were sentenced to life imprisonment. The judge also ordered them to pay a compensation of Rs 1 lakh to Rahibai.
“The 11 accused because of their superstition claimed two lives and killed them in a brutal manner. I hope that this judgment acts as a warning to those who still hold such beliefs,” said government pleader Deepshikha Bhide. Over 400 cases have been filed under the Act since it came into effect in 2013. Convictions have come in only half a dozen cases so far.