Jharkhand on Sunday began weeklong celebrations to mark the International Day for Indigenous People. On the same day, four tribal men in Maray Toli village of Ranchi roasted three cocks they had sacrificed to “ward off evil”.
Their mother Rakiya Khalkho (70) and sister Titri Khalkho (45), both widows, were among five women who were publicly lynched by villagers Friday for allegedly practising “witchcraft”. The others were Jasintha Toppo (55), Madni Khalkho (55) and Etwariya Khalkho (50).
The assailants, most of them drunk, wanted “revenge” as they claimed the women had performed “witchcraft” that led to the death of village boy Vipin Khalkho, a Class VII student.
The women were dragged out of their homes and taken to the village’s place of worship. Their public humiliation continued from 11 pm on Friday to 4 am. Long after they were dead, villagers were asked to club them once more to erase the last trace of the “dayans”.
The assailants and the victims belonged to Oraon community, one of the poorest tribes in Jharkhand.
However, it was learnt that behind the garb of superstition lay property dispute, family and personal rivalries. Rakiya’s son Johan said, “Our relatives Sachin and Sandeep had an eye on our land. They led the mob that dragged my mother and sister out and stripped them.”
Jasintha was a vegetable vendor whose daughter Anima had completed Class XII and become a nurse. That night, her prime assailants were the brother and nephew of her husband Matiyas. “We have a long rivalry with our uncle. That night, my uncle and cousins barged into our home and dragged my mother out. They stripped her and killed her,” said Anima.
Etwariya, also a widow, had got her eldest daughter married and sent the younger Madhu (22) to Delhi to work. Madni was a Bhagtayin and spent time in spiritual activities.
Tribal leaders linked the incident to faultlines within the community. “It can be rivalry over property or other issues. They take revenge in the name of witchcraft,” said Prafulla Linda of Adivasi Adhikar Manch.
Police, too, have not ruled out that such disputes could have led to the incident. “We are probing all angles,” Ranchi Rural SP Rajkumar Lakda said.
Ironically, some members of the victims’ families believed such violence was justified, provided those killed “were really dayans”.
“I told them that if my mother-in-law is a dayan, use wahin kaat do. But she was not a dayan,” said Mukesh, Etwariya’s son-in-law.
While 25 persons were arrested Saturday, two were arrested Sunday. They have been booked under various sections of IPC including 302, 120B and the state anti-witchcraft law.
Villagers said the assailants had been conspiring to kill these women ever since the boy’s death on August 2. They held secret meetings and families of the targeted women were ostracised before the assault, they said.
Anima said the police could have been prevented the incident. Immediately after the mob dragged her mother out, she escaped and reached the nearest police station. In an hour, she had arrived with a police vehicle and six policemen.
The five women, stripped and badly injured by then, had been brought to the centre of the village. But, the policemen retreated after the villagers heckled them. “If they had opened fire in the air, the mob could have withdrawn,” said Jasintha’s nephew Joseph.
While the victims’ families have been provided protection, they are still living in fear. “You can see their faces (relatives of those arrested). They have no remorse, no fear,” Anima said.
The walls of Ranchi houses are covered with posters of the celebrations. In Maray Toli, Rakiya’s sons had roasted the cocks as per the ritual. It was time for the feast.
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