A tribal village on the Majuli island in Assam has kept 35 people several of them women virtually under house arrest for the past 10 days before a purification ceremony absolves them of sins ranging from alleged killing to harming fellow residents through witchcraft.
Jorhat Deputy Commissioner Solanki Vishal Vasant said the administration was keeping a round-the-clock watch on Shikarigaon,a village inhabited by the Misings tribe,to prevent physical harm to the 35.
It all started after an 11-year-old boy suffering from pox muttered names of some people allegedly practising witchcraft. Initial reports said the villagers were planning to murder them but later decided on purification, the Deputy Commissioner said over the phone.
Majuli,which is located on the Brahmaputra,has a history of brutal murders of alleged witchcraft practitioners,with 2012 witnessing at least eight such deaths.
Last year,five members of a family were done to death at the Seleng-Naduar village,while two persons were chopped and the pieces thrown into the Brahmaputra at Jengraimukh.
The residents have refused to let the police enter the village. We are trying to intervene with the help of local tribal institutions, Solanki said.
A police picket has been set up outside Shikarigaon to keep a round-the-clock eye on the village,according to sources.
Meanwhile,Bhaskar Pegu,vice-president of Takam Mising Porin Kebang,an organisation that has considerable influence among the Misings,said superstition was so strongly embedded in the community that the people could go to any extent under its influence.
We have been trying to tell the people that these are all superstitions that do no good. But it is difficult to wean them away, he said.
In this case,the boy under a so-called spell of aai (mother goddess) has asked the villagers to keep the 35 people under a watch till he purifies them on Lakshmi Puja, he added.