Eight men from the tribal hamlet of Jatni Toli in Jharkhand’s Khunti district is languishing in jail for the past three months without bail. Their crime: they sacrificed an ox.
According to villagers, besieged by diarrhea, fever and a poor harvest this year, the adivasi residents of Jatni Toli decided to perform a ritual they had conducted over 10 years back as part of their Sarna belief system. On February 8, they sacrificed an ox, and the police promptly booked them under the anti-cow slaughter law.
Dangri Puja, as the ritual is called in Sadri language, is conducted ahead of Holi by individual Munda villages infrequently and only when there is an urgent need. “The men had just killed the ox when one Chandra Sahu walked into the village,” said Salen Hembrom, a local resident. Sahu, who would later present 17 witnesses to support his claim, pointed to the carcass and claimed that the villagers had just sacrificed his cow.
In his statement to the police, Sahu claimed that he had been out searching for his cow and calf, which had gone missing the previous night. How Sahu came up to Jatni Toli – three kilometres from Torpa town, where he lives – is a mystery. Sahu claimed that he identified his animal from its short horns and red (brown) hide. The seizure report by the police mentions two short horns, but does not talk of an udder or a hump – which may have helped settle the matter on the spot.
The police took away 16 men from the village who were involved in killing the animal; eight were later sent back because they were minors. It is at this point that the police decided to impose the Jharkhand Bovine Animal Prohibition of Slaughter Act, 2005. Its violators can be sentenced to not less than one year and up to 10 years of rigorous imprisonment and fine up to Rs 10,000.
Jatni Toli residents – most of whom follow the Sarna faith while the rest are Christians – say Sahu did not chance up on their ritual. “We later heard there was a meeting at his house before he reached here. The BJP put so much pressure on the police to arrest our boys,” said Binil Hembrom, a resident. Sahu told police later that the calf returned home later with cuts on body, but did not submit proof of it. “He also got his cow back, but has not reported it. He has since moved his cattle to a different village,” alleged Hembrom.
Two police officials said that the examination of the meat proved that it came from a cow, not ox. However, an official of the Animal Husbandry Department said that such a report was not possible.
“As far as I know, we do not have the facilities for sex determination tests even in Ranchi, forget Khunti. It is essentially a chromosomal test, which requires better infrastructure,” he said.
Jatni Tola residents have been shaken up so much, they consumed only broiler chicken this Easter.