Ten days after a woman athlete was dubbed as a witch and subjected to physical torture in Karbi Anglong district, central Assam, three more women have been targeted under similar charges in Tinsukia district in upper Assam.
The three women, Mala Bhumij, Ratani Kond and Gangi Orang, were beaten up and physically tortured by several men and women until police reached the spot and rescued them. The incident happened in Koomsong, a 720-hectare tea estate owned by McLeod Russel, whose website says it is the largest tea producer in the world.
While the incident took place yesterday, the police have not been able to arrest the main culprit, a local “bez” (faith-healer) called Santosh, with SP Akhilesh Kumar Singh saying he was absconding.
“A local bez on failing to cure a sick 14-year old boy put the blame on witchcraft and pointed at three women living close by following which the neighbours turned violent and severely beat up the three women. Luckily we intervened on time and saved the women from being lynched,” SP Singh told The Indian Express on Saturday.
A case was registered against the “bez”, but police have not been able to trace him despite raids in several houses. The 14-year boy, whom the police had shifted to the Assam Medical Hospital in Dibrugarh, died on Saturday. He was suffering from acute liver cirrhosis.
“The three women, who were initially moved to the local police station, have been shifted to an undisclosed location after an angry crowd blocked the highway demanding that the three women be handed over to them,” SP Singh said. The police had to resort to lathicharge to disperse the mob and clear the highway.
Tinsukia deputy commissioner Puru Gupta said this incident of targeting innocent persons in the name of witchcraft happened despite a series of campaigns carried out under “Mission Birubala” by well-known social reformer Birubala Rabha, who was a survivor of such an attack several years ago.
It was only on October 15 that Debajani Bora, a well-known veteran athlete and winner of several national and international level medals, was tortured by a group of men and women inside a naam-ghar (community prayer hall) at Dokmoka in Karbi Anglong after a local priest “identified” her as a witch who had allegedly spread diseases and misfortune among the local people.
While a group of men tied Bora with a fishing net, video clippings taken by some persons on the mobile phone showed the priest, one Biswa Medhi, sitting on the woman and beating her up. At least ten persons including eight women, have been already arrested in connection with the incident.