Seven persons were taken hostage and later killed, allegedly by armed supporters of the Pathalgadi self-rule movement, in a village in West Singhbhum district of Jharkhand, police said Wednesday. All seven, police said, had been decapitated by their abductors.
The incident took place Sunday evening but the police, who reached Burugulikera village in Gudri block Tuesday, could retrieve the bodies only Wednesday. The killings were said to be a fallout of an old rivalry between supporters of the Pathalgadi movement and those against it.
Under the spotlight, again
The Pathalgadi movement is decades old, and has resurfaced in recent years. That this incident took place days after the JMM-led government announced withdrawal of sedition cases against Pathalgadi activists will return the spotlight to both the movement and the government.
“The problem between the Pathalgadi factions in the village had been brewing for a while. The anti-Pathalgadi faction did not pay heed to the call by the pro-Pathalgadi people who asked them to submit some documents and reject government schemes. While resisting, the anti-Pathalgadi faction indulged in some sort of violence. In retaliation, the pro-Pathalgadi people, who form the majority in the village, held them hostage and later murdered them,” a police officer said.
The officer said that bodies of all seven persons — who were in their mid-20s and early 30s — were recovered three days after the incident. “Police received information on Tuesday. But the bodies could not be recovered. On Wednesday, the bodies were recovered from a valley, five kilometres from the village. The bodies had been heaped together and bore multiple injury marks. It appeared they had been dragged away. We have recovered an axe from the scene of crime,” the officer said.
Confirming the decapitation of the abducted seven, DGP K N Choubey said: “The Pathalgadi issue can be a polarisation landscape of the village, but whether the murder happened due to Pathalgadi needs to be investigated. There are hidden reasons, apparent reasons and can be a combination of reasons. An SIT has been formed to look into the matter.” No arrest has been made so far.
SP West Singhbhum Indrajit Mahata said: “On (January) 16th, nine persons had ransacked a few houses in the village. To oppose this, a meeting was convened and all nine were called on January 19. Two persons ran away during the meeting. The villagers caught seven and killed them.”
Pathalgadi is a decades-old tribal protest which seeks autonomy for gram sabhas. It rejects the law of the land as well as government rights over their forests and rivers. As part of the movement, Pathalgadis erect a stone plaque or signboard outside the village, declaring it sovereign territory and prohibiting entry of outsiders.
A total of 19 cases of sedition, among others, were registered against 172 accused. In its first cabinet decision on December 29, the Hemant Soren government dropped all cases registered against people during the Pathalgadi movement of 2017-2018. Recently, the Chief Secretary asked the Khunti Deputy Commissioner to do the groundwork for the withdrawal of cases.
Expressing grief over the incident, Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren said: “Law is above all and the guilty will not be spared. The police is investigating the matter.” A high-level meeting will be convened to prevent recurrence of such an incident, he said.
In New Delhi, BJP president J P Nadda formed a six-member committee, including five tribal MPs of the party, which will visit the site of the killings and submit a report within a week. Condemning the incident, Nadda expressed “deep pain” over the abduction and killing of seven innocent persons, the party said in a statement.
📣 The Indian Express is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@indianexpress) and stay updated with the latest headlines