Inside the room, a table fan was whirring. Red LED lights blinked from two mobile chargers kept on a wooden shelf pinned to the wall. Flies swarmed around the unwashed steel and aluminium vessels that the family used for their last meal on Sunday night. A patch of dried blood inside the room — almost as big as three-year-old Namita Munda, who was allegedly stabbed to death by five tribal men — served as a grim reminder of the murder of the family in Keonjhar’s Mundasahi village on allegations of witchcraft.
The Sunday night attack on Gura Munda’s (40) house left him, his wife Budhini, his daughters Sambari and Namita and sons Sunil and Kushanath dead in a span of 30 minutes. Sambhunath Munda (9) continues to fight for his life at SCB Medical College and Hospital in Cuttack.
A day after the murders, there was a deathly silence in the village located next to some of the biggest iron ore mines of the state.
While the relatives of the victims started arriving this morning, other villagers kept away out of fear of being arrested by the police. Villagers refused to talk about the events that led to the killings.
Police have already arrested main accused Tumba Munda, Gura Munda’s elder brother and his neighbour. The identity of another man arrested by the police is not yet known.
“The villagers genuinely believed that Munda’s wife was practising witchcraft and was casting spells on the neighbours’ children. The belief was so strong that even after the murder, no villager came to see the bodies even after police arrived at the spot. No villager was willing to touch the bodies thinking that some evil spell might harm them,” said a police constable from the Bileipada police outpost in Joda.
Guru Munda’s son, Ganita Munda (18), who survived the attack despite suffering an abdominal slash, recounted how he along with his parents and brother were called by Tumba Munda and other villagers on Sunday morning and accused of practising witchcraft.
“The meeting lasted for five hours. The villagers said my mother was a witch who was casting a spell on her own son. My brother Kushanath was not keeping well for sometime. They even accused her of casting a spell on the son of my uncle Tumba. We were warned of dire consequences. We protested, but no one was ready to listen to us,” said Ganita, who is recovering at the Basudevpur community health centre that is guarded by a police constable.
“The villagers were particularly angry about my father taking one of my ailing brothers to a local hospital before consulting a Rawadia (witch doctor),” said Ganita.
On Sunday night — 4 hours after the family had gone to bed – Mansing Munda, son of main accused Tumba Munda, allegedly knocked on their door asking for khaini (chewing tobacco). A few minutes later, according to sources, the killers barged in and started stabbing the sleeping family.
Ganita fled the spot and stayed hidden through the night.
“I could hear the screams of my sister trying to save my father. The assailants were looking for me frantically and called out my name. I stayed like that till next morning when I ran to the police outpost. I was too scared to go home,” he said.
Though just about 4 km away from the town of Joda, villagers in Mundasahi do not have much faith in modern medicine. “We have to do a puja with the witch doctor before we can take our ailing children to nearest hospital. Our belief is he can cure us,” said Gasna Munda, a 17-year-old tribal girl, who is the mother of a child.
Nirmal Mohanta, secretary of Maa Basanti Youth Club, said the level of trust the Munda tribals have in the witch doctor is “frightening”. “For safe childbirth they trust Malibanga Goddess and for other purposes they trust Marangburu (God of the forest),” said Mohanta.