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Adivasi (Tribal) Witchcraft News Reports

Adivasi Witchcraft


Children of 'witches' fight social stigma


September 19, 2007 (IANS) Ranchi: A social revolution is taking root in Jharkhand's villages. Daughters and granddaughters of women who were once branded witches are coming forward to root out the social evil.


Poonam Toppo, 29, whose grandmother was once tortured for being a witch, has taken up cudgels to fight the crime of branding innocent people witches and then killing them brutally.


A resident of Bhusur village on the outskirts of Ranchi, Poonam became an orphan at the age of eight. She was the third child of her family and lived with her grandmother.


Recalling her past, Poonam, now director of the Ranchi unit of Free Legal Aid Committee (FLAC), said that when a villager died, residents put the blame on her grandmother.


The village panchayat branded her grandmother a witch and she was brutally beaten up. The family was ostracised and prevented from going to the village market or participating in tribal festivals.


"My grandmother was blamed for everything taking place in the village, be it the death of a cow or a buffalo. One day I decided to stand up against this. When they once came to beat my grandmother, I stood at the doorway and asked them to kill me first. The villagers retreated," Poonam said.


"I took up the matter with the panchayat leaders and argued that if my grandmother could kill anyone, then why couldn't she protect herself from the wrath of the villagers. The panchayat accepted my argument and agreed not to harass my grandmother," she said.


Poonam started a campaign against the social stigma at the age of 12. She was ridiculed in school as the granddaughter of a witch. Undaunted, she organised more than 50 plays to create awareness among children.


Seema Toppo, another girl from Namkom village in Ranchi, is also in the campaign. Seema's mother too was tortured by her neighbours. Villagers beat her, blaming her for the death of a woman.


Seema also started a protest campaign by organising street plays and puppet shows.


But women are still being attacked and killed after being branded witches in the state.


Official figures show that 189 women were killed between 2001 and 2006 for allegedly practising witchcraft. The figure is contested by FLAC, which says 412 women were killed between 2001 and 2006.


And since 1991 to July this year, 922 women have been killed.


To prevent witchcraft killing, Bihar unveiled a Witchcraft Prevention Act, 1999. Jharkhand accepted this in 2001.


"Law is not sufficient to curb witchcraft deaths. The real culprits are Ojhas (witch doctors). We want stringent action against anyone torturing women," said Ajay Kumar, a former director of FLAC.




Three of a family killed for practising witchcraft


June 28, 2008 (IANS) Ranchi: Three members of a family were beaten to death in a Jharkhand village after being accused of practising witchcraft, police said Saturday.


The incident occurred late Friday night in Torpa block of Khuti district, around 90 km from Ranchi.


Police identified the victims as Ghuchara Pahan, his son Kisun and daughter-in-law Mukta.


The villagers had convened a panchayat meeting Friday night and summoned the trio, who were asked to stop practicing black magic as this was causing suffering to the villagers.


Ghuchara and Kisun had a verbal altercation with the villagers, after which they ran into their hut. The villagers dragged them out and started beating them with bamboo sticks and irons rods, killing all three on the spot. The villagers later informed the police about the incident.


The police reached the village Saturday and took the bodies away. The villagers involved in the killing are absconding.


Over 700 people, mostly women, have been killed over the past few years in Jharkhand after being branded as witches. 




Accused witch axed to death


Jamshedpur / telegraph / July 05, 2005: A 35-year-old woman was axed to death in Lodhanbani village under Barsole police station for allegedly practising witchcraft.


The woman, identified as Badbari Munda, was allegedly axed inside her house by four villagers from the same village at about 1.30 in the night. Sukra Munda, the husband of the victim who is also the eyewitness, revealed that late Sunday night four persons forcefully entered their house and started beating Badbari.


The four have been identified as Ranga, Maha, Lolia and Tira Munda. ?We had just finished our dinner and were about to sleep when we heard some people shouting outside our house. Soon someone knocked at the door. We did not open the door, but they broke the bolt and entered the house,? said Sukra.


Ranga was carrying an axe and the other three assailants were carrying iron rods and sticks. ?As soon as they entered into the house they started abusing my wife as a witch. Before we could find our way out of the house, Ranga attacked her with the axe and she fell on the ground,? said Sukra.


Sukra and his family members, however, denied Badbari ever practised witchcraft. They maintained that before this no one has ever raised any allegation against the deceased. ?The most important thing is that witchcraft is practiced by old women and she was just 35 years old. How could they label her as a witch?? said the father of the deceased.




From Superstition to Savagery

Women Accused of Witchcraft Face Violence in Rural India


The Washington Post, August 8, 2005 - At sundown, Pusanidevi Manjhi recalled, nine village men stormed into her house shouting, "Witch, witch!" and dragged her out by her hair as her six small children watched helplessly.


"This woman is a witch!" the men announced to the villagers, said Manjhi, 36. She said they tied her ankles together and locked her in a dark room.


"They beat me with bamboo sticks and metal rods and tried to pull my nails out. 'You are a witch, admit it,' they screamed at me again and again," Manjhi said, tearfully recalling her four days of captivity in June.


"They accused me of casting an evil spell on their paddy crop that was destroyed in a fire. I begged them and told them I was not a witch," she said, showing wounds on her legs, thighs, hips and shoulders one recent morning in this village in the eastern Indian state of Jharkhand.


After a police investigation, the men who attacked Manjhi were arrested. An official said that the attack was spurred by a powerful landowner who owned rice paddies in the village and used local superstition to mask his attempts to maintain control.


Threats and charges of witchcraft occur in a number of Indian states that have large tribal populations with traditional beliefs about witches. Indian newspapers periodically publish reports about women who, after being accused of being witches, have been beaten, had their heads shaved or had strings of shoes hung around their necks. Some have been killed.


In a tribal society steeped in superstition, the spells of witches often are blamed for stubborn illnesses, a stroke of bad luck, the drying up of wells, crop failure or the inability to give birth to a son. But social analysts and officials said that superstition and faith in witchcraft often are a ploy for carrying out violence against women.


"Superstition is only an excuse. Often a woman is branded a witch so that you can throw her out of the village and grab her land, or to settle scores, family rivalry, or because powerful men want to punish her for spurning their sexual advances. Sometimes it is used to punish women who question social norms," said Pooja Singhal Purwar, an official at the Jharkhand social welfare department.


"Women from well-to-do homes in the village are never branded witches," Purwar said. "It is always the socially and economically vulnerable women who are targeted and boycotted."


Purwar said she sees an average of five women a month being denounced as witches and tortured in rural Jharkhand. Her department has drawn up a public information project to oppose the practice, providing information at village fairs and conducting street performances and puppet shows. Police at the local level have been alerted to track the cases of women who are attacked, she said.


While Manjhi was imprisoned by her captors, her husband, a farmhand, sought help from the village elders, who called a meeting to determine if Manjhi was a witch and summoned a witch doctor for verification. But by then, word spread and the police arrived.


The nine men were charged under a Jharkhand state law that forbids accusing people of being witches. One of them was Gahan Lal, the man whose paddy had caught fire. Lal later confessed to torturing Manjhi.


"Gahan Lal was a powerful landlord. There were fights all the time in the village over land and wages," said Jayant Tirkey, the police officer investigating the case. "When his paddy caught fire, he blamed [Manjhi] for casting an evil spell. But that is merely an excuse. His real motive is to instill fear among the poor."


Tirkey said he thinks that village witch doctors are to blame for superstitious practices, but added that witch doctors are not arrested and tried because they are not directly involved in the violence.


"I never name a witch. I only give villagers some clues to find her," said Leena Oraon, who is known as a witch doctor in Aragate village and who says she studies rice grains to ascertain the presence of a witch in the village. "Today's doctors cannot cure ailments that are caused by a witch's curse. That is why people come to me."


In a case three years ago in Lalganj village, an elderly woman, Baili Kashyap, was branded a witch for supposedly causing sickness in the family of a relative. The relatives, who allegedly were engaged in a land dispute with her, tied her to a tree and slit her throat with a sickle while others in the village watched. Six men are in prison for the murder.


"My mother-in-law was not a witch. They were after our land. But the entire village just stood and watched the murder," said Kashyap's daughter-in-law, Reena, 28. "They believed she was a witch and deserved to die."


According to a study by the Free Legal Aid Committee, an advocacy group that works against witch-hunting, only 2 percent of people charged with witch-hunting are convicted in court.


"People go scot-free because witnesses are hard to come by. Villagers often approve of the torture meted out to these women," said Girija Shankar Jaiswal, a lawyer who heads the organization. "They think witch-hunting is a heroic act and that it will clean the society of evil."


Only two Indian states, Jharkhand and Bihar, have outlawed witch-hunting. Last year, one of India's northeastern states, Tripura, conducted a discussion in the legislative assembly about the need to ban the practice of witch-hunting. After a day-long debate, the assembly unanimously decided that killing of people for practicing witchcraft should be prevented.


However, members failed to reach a consensus on whether witchcraft was a science or superstition.




Couple killed for practising witchcraft in Jharkhand


Ranchi (IANS)| July 02, 2007: An old couple were killed in Jharkhand for allegedly practicing black magic, police officials said.


Tanekta Bhokta, 60, and his wife Ashamani, 55, were residents of Beti village under Pithoria block, about 40 km from Ranchi.


Police officials said Monday that the couple's neighbour Deodhari Bhokta and his brother Surendra Bhokta dragged them out of their house Sunday. The brothers tied the old couple to a tree and beat them to death with sticks. The men then hacked the dead bodies with sharp edged weapons and chopped off the hands and legs.


Later, they informed other villagers about the crime that they had committed and surrendered before the police.


However, the brothers do not regret having killed the couple. "The couple were practising black magic and due to impact of their black magic our family members were falling ill. We have no remorse," said Surendera Bhokta.


The couple are survived by their two daughters. One of them, Rupanti Kumari, 19, said: "We tried to save our parents but they did not show any mercy. Not a single villager turned up to help us".


Killing people suspected of practising black magic is common in Jharkhand. In the past 10 years, more than 600 persons, mostly women, have been killed in Jharkhand after they were branded witches. 




Man sacrifices sons in Jharkhand


Ranchi (IANS) | January 10, 2007: In a strange incident of child sacrifice, a man in Jharkhand sacrificed two of his sons Wednesday in search of spiritual powers, police said.

Jeetan Munda, a resident of Barki village in Hazaribagh district, is a sorcerer by profession, escaped after sacrificing his sons with the help of an aide, police said.


The younger son died on the spot, while the elder son sustained serious injuries and he was admitted to a local hospital. His condition is said to be serious.


Police have recovered materials like vermilion, mustard oil and clothes, which suggest that Munda had worshipped the god before sacrificing his sons.


Witchcraft and occult practices are common in Jharkhand.


More than 20 persons have been sacrificed in the state recently in the name of appeasing god.





Three of a family killed for practising witchcraft


June 28th, 2008 by IANS - Three members of a family were beaten to death in a Jharkhand village after being accused of practising witchcraft, police said Saturday. The incident occurred late Friday night in Torpa block of Khuti district, around 90 km from Ranchi.


Police identified the victims as Ghuchara Pahan, his son Kisun and daughter-in-law Mukta.


The villagers had convened a panchayat meeting Friday night and summoned the trio, who were asked to stop practicing black magic as this was causing suffering to the villagers.


Ghuchara and Kisun had a verbal altercation with the villagers, after which they ran into their hut. The villagers dragged them out and started beating them with bamboo sticks and irons rods, killing all three on the spot. The villagers later informed the police about the incident.


The police reached the village Saturday and took the bodies away. The villagers involved in the killing are absconding.


Over 700 people, mostly women, have been killed over the past few years in Jharkhand after being branded as witches.




Chhattisgarh police arrest 22 for assaulting 50 women


December 23rd 2008 Raipur (IANS) - Twenty two men have been arrested in Chhattisgarh for assaulting about 50 women and branding them witches, a senior official said Tuesday. According to reports, a nine day "purification ceremony" was organised by about 200 villagers on the advice of a local leader at Dhodhakesra village in Surguja district, about 400 km north of Raipur.


During the "ceremony", about 50 women were branded witches and they were forced to get a haircut "to free them from impact of evil spirits". The women were also beaten in public. The "ceremony" ended Dec 19.


"Police will not tolerate such an act; 22 men have been arrested under the stringent Chhattisgarh Witchcraft (Prevention) Act that makes crimes against women in name of witches a non-bailable offence," senior police officer Radheshyam Nayak told IANS.


He said the probe is on and villagers are being interrogated, adding that more arrests are likely.


Chief Minister Raman Singh has taken a serious view of the incident and termed it "most inhuman, unfortunate and shameful". He has asked police chief Vishwaranjan to thoroughly investigate the case and ensure tough punishment to culprits.


With a rising number of cases against women in the name of witchcraft, the state government enacted a Witchcraft (Prevention) Act in 2005. Those convicted under the act can be jailed for upto five years.




Teenager lynched in West Bengal on suspicion of being a witch


Kolkata, Nov 23 (IANS) A 16-year-old girl was beaten to death by villagers in West Bengal's South 24 Parganas district, who accused her of practising witchcraft and entrancing the son of her former employer to marry her, the police said. "Tulu Dolui, 16, was dragged out of her hut in Ghoramara village around 11.30 p.m. by at least eight people, who then tied her to a tree and beat her with sticks for over three hours," an official at Sagore police station told reporters.


He said police intervened to rescue the girl, but she succumbed to her injuries on way to the local health centre. She had sustained serious head, abdominal, chest and back injuries.


The official said the villagers alleged that Dolui was a witch and had hypnotised the son of a rich grocer's son, who decided to marry her against his parents' wishes. She was working there as a maid servant until the grocer came to know of the relationship and sacked her.


No one has been arrested so far in this incident, he said.





Jharkhand tribes facing Malaria deaths


November 12th, 2008 by ANI - Kuramu (Pallamu) Jharkhand, Nov.12 (ANI): Widespread ignorance, dependency on exorcism and witchcraft among tribes in Jharkhands Palamu district have become a major problem for people struggling against Malaria here.


Malaria has claimed over 24 lives and affected hundreds of others in Kuramu village under Chandwa Block of Latehar Division of States Palamu district.


"My grandson was already suffering from fever. We called the exorcists and even witch doctors, but nothing could help. He died on the Diwali night. Later my granddaughter also fell ill and we have taken her to Primary Healthcare Centre at Chandwa," said Ram Chandra, a local resident.


Marshy lands, water logging and unhygienic conditions in this region have become a haven for mosquitoes to breed and spread dreaded filaria, malaria and dengue, further the situation is compounded by apathetic attitude of the State administration.


Nine persons belonging to the Lohra and Ganjhu tribes have reportedly succumbed to the disease in the last week alone.


Another factor that let the spread of the disease has been the isolated location of these affected areas with no concerned officials turning up for inspection.


"We know that this place is a remote place, and it''s not really accessible by general public. But still the way administration has delayed the matter and this is something very much unjustified," said Boidya Nath Ram, a former legislator of Chandwa area.


Hundreds of hapless villagers are compelled to endure the dreaded malaria while those responsible in the administration appear to have just woken up from slumber.

Doctor and para-medical staff of Primary Health Centre at Chandwa, however, blame the inaccessible roads and remote location for the delay in providing help.


"Kuramu is not very accessible, and thus, treatment in this area has been bit delayed. But we are trying our level-best to treat as many people as possible. Hopefully, things will get better soon," said Dr. R R Prasad, Medical Officer at the Primary Health Centre, Chandwa. (ANI)





Youth killed in witchcraft related violence


Raipur, May 21 (IANS) Eight people have been arrested in Chhattisgarh's industrial city Bhilai after a young man was killed in group clashes over a dispute over witchcraft. Police said two groups clashed Monday night at Sector 11 in Bhilai, about 30 km from here, after some people attacked a woman's house blaming her for the death of a boy.


This led to the group clash in which a 22-year-old man, S. Gopi, suffered severe head injuries and died later, said Additional Superintendent of Police Prashant Thakur.


Chhattisgarh is infamous for witchcraft related violence.




Dalit woman branded witch in Bihar, beaten up


Patna, March 28 2008 (IANS) A middle-aged Dalit woman was brutally thrashed and her hair cut off for allegedly practising witchcraft in a Bihar village, barely 20 km from the state capital, Patna, the police said Friday. The police lodged a first information report and arrested six people, including prime accused Ramayodhya Rai.


The woman, Lalpari, in her 40s, is a resident of Naubatpur village nearPatna. The police said the people suspected she practised witchcraft in the neighbouring Adalchak-Dumaria village, near Maner in the outskirts of Patna.


"She was first tied to a palm tree with a rope, then thrashed and her hair was cut off and burnt in front of a crowd of villagers Thursday," a senior police officer said.


The incident created an uproar in the state assembly Friday and an opposition Rashtriya Janata Dal legislator and a minister in the erstwhile Rabri Devi government, Shyam Razak alleged that women were not safe under the present regime.


"Women were being tortured by feudal forces," Razak said while his party members raised anti-government slogans. The opposition demanded stern action against the guilty.


The police said Lalpari had gone to Adalchak-Dumaria village Thursday to treat a woman, Manorama Rai, who suffers from a mental illness.


As Manorama's condition deteriorated, her husband Ramayodhya Rai lost his temper and accused Lalpari of practising sorcery and inflicting harm on his wife.


He got together some of his friends from the village and paraded Lalpari through the streets. The men tied her to a palm tree, cut off her hair and smeared her head with limestone paste.


Lalpari, however, refuted the charge of practising witchcraft and said she was a healer. When the police were informed about the incident, they rushed to the village and rescued the woman.




16 arrested for burning alive woman in Chhattisgarh


Raipur, March 27 2008 (IANS) Sixteen people including five women have been arrested for allegedly burning alive a 40-yr-old tribal woman in Korea district of Chhattisgarh after beating her for hours with hot iron rods, a police officer said Thursday. "The woman, who belonged to the Gond tribe, was beaten for hours with hot iron rods before being set on fire in the presence of dozens of villagers. They accused her of witchcraft and claimed she was responsible for the recent deaths of three children in the village," A.M. Juri, district superintendent of police, told IANS.

The woman called Phulkanwar was killed Sunday in Dholpur village, about 500 km north of here. A case was registered Wednesday when her husband Harilal Singh reported the tragedy to the police.


"We have strong evidence against 17 people and 16 of them have been arrested. The one person who is absconding will also be arrested soon," Juri said.


Besides murder, the 17 have been charged under the stringent Chhattisgarh Witchcraft (Prevention) Act, 2005.


Crimes against women accused of witchcraft are common in Chhattisgarh's northern and southern regions. 




Man enters police station with severed head


Jamshedpur, Apr 20 2008 (PTI) In a ghastly incident, a woman was beheaded on suspicion of practising witchcraft by a tribal who later walked in the police station with the severed head in Ghatsila sub-division of Jharkhand today.


The accused Jairam Hansda held the woman Renti responsible for the death of his brother a few days back and had been looking for a chance to get her, police said.


On finding her alone today, Jairam coaxed the unsuspecting woman to accompany him to a desolate spot next to a paddy field and made her consume alcohol at Musaboni area under Ghatsila sub-division.


Watch this incident in video - http://jharkhandforum.wordpress.com/2009/03/30/jharkhand-forum-adivasi-witchcraft-in-india-the-most-sensational-murder-of-sorcery-suspect/




Tribal Woman in Assam Hacked To Death on Suspicion of 'Witch'


Sinlung / Jan 31 09 Baksa - A 65-year-old Adivasi woman was hacked to death, allegedly by her two brothers, on the suspicion of practising witchcraft in lower Assam's Baksa district.


The decomposed body of Buddha Bala, with cut wounds on her head and neck, was found at her house in labour line quarter of Dumuni tea estate on Friday, police sources said.


Inquiries revealed a group of 20-25 neighbours along with her two brothers came to the woman's house on Tuesday night and forcibly took her away at knife point.


Her body was found near home this morning, the sources said.


Bala's two brothers Jogen Kerketa and Jonathan Kerketa confessed before reporters after their arrest that they had killed their sister on suspicion of her practising witchcraft along with four others.



The dark side of India where a witch-doctor's word means death

Monday, 5 July 2004: The decision was made in the hot jungle night: Bhobesh Pahan and his two adult sons, Nirmal and Bimal, must die. Two weeks ago, the villagers of Poaltore, near the border with Bangladesh, had a meeting to decide what to do about the spate of illness gripping the village. A month before, a two-year-old, Sumon Pahan, no relation, had died of dysentery.

The decision was made in the hot jungle night: Bhobesh Pahan and his two adult sons, Nirmal and Bimal, must die. Two weeks ago, the villagers of Poaltore, near the border with Bangladesh, had a meeting to decide what to do about the spate of illness gripping the village. A month before, a two-year-old, Sumon Pahan, no relation, had died of dysentery.

Several villagers had viral fever. The village witch doctor said the cause was simple. The 65-year-old Bhobesh Pahan and his sons were witches, and had placed a curse on the villagers.

The jungle is never far in the villages here. The banana leaves and creepers are so thick you cannot see through them, even by daylight. There are spiders bigger than a man's hand, and some of the world's most poisonous snakes. At night, the villagers hear the sounds of leopards in the undergrowth.

The witch-doctor is said to have told the people the only way to rid themselves of the curse that was making them sick was to kill the witches. Bhobesh Pahan and his sons were condemned to death. The villagers agreed to kill them.

But, by a rare stroke of fortune, the Pahans were saved. The police were tipped off that there was about to be a witch-killing. The officers raided in force and rescued the men. Since then, there have been intensive police patrols in the village to prevent violence.

This incident, just two weeks ago, has cast renewed scrutiny on a darker side of India. The country is at the forefront of the cyber-revolution, the home of the world's biggest film industry, and a place where more and more business is being outsourced from Britain. But if India is changing fast, the more remote parts of the country are being left behind. Witch-killing is still an everyday part of life here. And not all the victims are as lucky as the Pahans.

They came for Sanseriya Oraow on a humid monsoon Sunday. Her neighbours dragged the middle-aged mother from her house and hammered a nail through her skull into her brain. Then, while she was still alive but in desperate pain, they sewed her up in a sack and dumped her in the nearby Murti river. Two days later, the police recovered her body.

The neighbours dragged four other middle-aged women from their homes that day. Each one suffered similar treatment, nails being hammered into her head, then, in her confusion and agony, being sewn into a sack and dumped in the river to die. This was the most notorious case of recent times. The local witch doctor had proclaimed the women witches after a run of illness among the people.

The place where it happened, Kilkott tea garden, seems an unlikely setting for such stuff of nightmares. This is a plantation set up by the British in colonial times, and is famed for the quality of its tea. On the mountainsides nearby are the great tea gardens of Darjeeling.

Kilkott is in stark contrast, surrounded by encroaching jungle. At the head planter's bungalow, the managers sit in wicker chairs on a vast, white verandah, gazing over manicured lawns and flower-beds that look straight out of Surrey, shielded by an elaborate iron screen from the monsoon deluge hammering into the garden. In a curious throwback to the colonial era, the managers of the tea estates dress in old-fashioned, tight English shorts that would be considered risqué in polite Indian society and seem ill-advised in a region ridden with malaria-carrying mosquitoes.

In another notorious case, across the border in Bihar state in 2000, Manikul Gopai survived only because her family fought to the death to defend her after she was named as a witch by a medicine man and 10 men attacked her house. Her husband was hacked to death by the attackers as he tried to guard the door. Her son's arm was sliced open, but he managed to escape and get to the police to beg for help with his dying breath. They arrived armed to the teeth and just in time to rescue Ms Gopai. She had been seriously wounded with a sword- blow to the forehead.

Activists believe there may be up to 100 cases a year in India. In May, Dituben Singhod was hacked to death with a scythe and an axe by two men who accused her of being a witch and putting a spell on their niece, who had died of illness. That was in Vadodara, hundreds of miles from here.

But tea plantations founded by the British are the focal point of anti-witch activities. Between 1992 and 1998, the most recent period for which figures are available, 1,403 people were killed as alleged "witches" on the plantations. The reason, says Sundeep Mukherjee of the Indian Tea Association, also dates from colonial times. When the British planted tea in India, finding local labourers prepared to do what was seen as the menial work of laboriously picking leaves from the bushes by hand was difficult.

So the British imported workers called Adivasis, people still living in tribal society at the time in the jungles of neighbouring Bihar, and offered them a new life. Free accommodation on the tea estates, and a job not only for life, but for at least one child after their deaths. To this day, most of the workers on the estates are still Adivasis, and they still enjoy the deal made with the British.

Mr Mukherjee is a retired Indian army officer, immaculately dressed and with perfect English. At one point, he suggests a trip to a neighbouring village where a rogue elephant is on the rampage, "just for the adventure of it".

He says: "The witch-hunting [is caused by] ignorance, because they are so steeped in superstition. First, most of the tribals are illiterate. They are so engrossed in their superstition that, although qualified doctors are provided for them, it's so deep-seated that they still go to their witch-doctors."

The Indian Tea Association has been trying to stamp out the witch-hunting phenomenon by pushing for better education in the plantations, and for initiatives such as plays to encourage adults to go to real doctors instead of witch-doctors. Although some Adivasis still practise animism, most have become Hindus or Christians. But primitive beliefs are still deep.

Several types of poisonous snakes roam the jungle, including the deadly king cobra. Most Adivasis who are bitten still go to the witch-doctors, who are believed to be able to draw out the poison with a mixture of herbs applied to the skin.

The medicine men also try to cure other illnesses with mantras. When the witch-doctor fails to cure an illness, Mr Mukherjee says, he faces the wrath of the family, so he claims the sickness has been caused by a witch, and names one of the local labourers, usually a middle-aged or elderly woman, often unmarried or widowed. The only cure is believed to be to kill the witch.

In an effort to stamp this out, the plantations are required by law to provide free medical care for workers, and doctors and hospitals are all available nearby. But many workers still prefer the witch-doctors.

"The witch-doctors are themselves illiterate, and are pawns in the hands of rival groups, used to settle scores among them," Mr Mukherjee says. There have been cases in which one side in a land dispute is believed to have persuaded the witch-doctor to name his rival as a witch to get him off the scene.

"Pointing out of 'witches' is an offence under Indian law, but because of the lack of witnesses, the witch-doctors invariably go free," Mr Mukherjee adds.

The Kilkott case is still being investigated, and there is a court case pending. But many of the witnesses are said to have changed their police statements. On the plantation, no one will admit they witnessed the killing. Everyone claims they were somewhere else at the time. Even Sanseriya Oraow's two grown-up sons denied to The Independent that they had seen anything.

"I was in the fields when it happened," Somra Oraow says. "When I got back I saw my mother's dead body." But when questioned about the condition of the body, he quickly changed his story. "I didn't see the body," he says. "I didn't see anything." Something has the labourers of Kilkott deeply scared. But whether it is fear of the police, the witch-doctors, or reprisals from the guilty labourers, is impossible to tell.

On the plantations it is not hard to understand why the labourers still believe in witchcraft. The night is pitch-dark here, there is no light for miles, and if you find yourself out on the plantations after dark you are alone amid the impenetrable darkness and the incessant sound of the surrounding jungle. Anyone can start believing in witchcraft under such conditions.

The labourers live by the sun. They get up at dawn to start work, and got bed soon after dark falls. They live on the "lines", rows of wood-and-mud houses with little gardens full of chickens and goats. Compared to the slums of India's city, these artificial villages don't seem that bad; there is space and everybody has a roof over his head. But the jungle begins where the "lines" end, at the end of the street, and leopards have been known to come in at night to kill the chickens and goats.

We found a witch-doctor on the tea plantation at Gandrapara tea garden. His name was Ashok Goaala, a slight man with deep-set, dark eyes. He seemed more frightened than intimidating, and was dressed in Western clothes, a tatty shirt and trousers.

"I possess my power from God," he says. "I can cure sicknesses. For snakebites, I put herbs next to the bite and then I recite a mantra. People come from as far away as Assam and Nepal to see me. My great-grandfather was a witch-doctor."

When asked if he believed in witches, his reply made the skin prickle: "As far as I know, there are witches in the lines here," he says. The manager of the plantation, who was standing nearby, looked shocked, but Mr Goaala added: "I don't publicise this or point it out. I don't believe in witch-hunting. I am capable of handling it myself."

The management of the tea plantations is often as reticent about the incidents as the labourers. At the Gairkata tea garden, where a woman was beaten to death last year as an alleged "witch", the management claimed there were "no official records" of witch-killings. All over the tea gardens, you get the same answer: yes, it happens, but not here.

A visit to the local police station shows the difficulties police are working under. There is no air-conditioning, despite the damp jungle heat. Officers sit sweating and mopping their brows, cradling the military rifles they need to patrol India's lawless rural areas. There are separatist militants here, some roads are not safe to travel at night.

"We'd like you to do an article," Sub-Inspector Nirmo Yonzhan, the senior officer, says. "We want more exposure for the witch-hunting, we want to stop it." But producing his files on witch-killing is no easy task. The station has no computers, just thousands of dusty documents that would have to be laboriously sifted through. It could take days.

There are piles of documents like that about witch-hunting across India, but with so few witnesses prepared to testify against the killers, and traditional societies resisting efforts to wean them off the witch-doctors, they may just keep piling up.





Witchcraft in Assam school curricula?

The National Commission for Women (NCW) has mooted introduction of a subject relating to 'dayan pratha' or witchcraft in the syllabus of primary education in Assam to eradicate the growing menace.

Neeva Konwar, member of the National Women Commission, said witch-hunting, like an infectious disease, was slowly spreading to newer areas and solutions would have to be found to eradicate the evil practice.

"The idea behind introducing dayan pratha in primary schools is to bring about awareness from an early age to do away with the primitive practice of witch-hunting based on superstitious beliefs," said Konwar.

Mridula Saharia , chairperson of the Assam State Women Commission, stressed the need for better medical facilities and mass awareness in remote rural areas to eradicate the evil practice. She said women cell should be activated at panchayat and district-level to tackle the evil.

The practice of witch-hunting is prevalent among some tribal communities in the state. These include Bodos, Ravas and the greater Adivasi community.

The Assam government had already adopted multi pronged strategy to combat witch-hunting. The Assam police have also intensified their drive to curb this problem. Codenamed 'Project Prahari', the crusade includes community policing measures, besides regular awareness campaigns, among tribal chiefs and village elders.

The police campaign is now focusing on educating villagers and holding meetings in areas dominated by tribal people.


Indian 'witchcraft' family beheaded


A family of five has been beheaded in Sonitpur district, north-east India, by a mob who accused them of witchcraft.

The tea plantation worker and his four children had been blamed for causing a disease which killed two other workers and made many unwell in Assam state.

About 200 villagers tried and sentenced the family in an unofficial court, then publicly beheaded them with machetes.

They then marched to a police station with the heads, chanting slogans denouncing witchcraft and black magic.

'Pregnant wife fled'

The incident occurred at the Sadharu tea plantation near the town of Biswanath Charali, about 300 km (190 miles) north of Guwahati, Assam's main city.

Sixty-year-old Amir Munda, who was killed alongside his two daughters and two sons, was reportedly a traditional healer.

After two plantation workers died and many others became ill from mysterious illness, other members of the Adivasi Santhal community accused him and his family of being the cause.

"A trial was held to prove if Munda and his family were involved in casting evil spells in the tea garden that led to a bout of epidemics in the area," police officer D Das said. "They said the killings would appease the gods.

"Munda's pregnant wife and her three young children managed to escape before the mob killed the other members of the family," A Hazarika, a local police official, told AFP.

Six people were arrested for the killings, Mr Hazarika said.

According to police records, some 200 people have been killed in Assam in the past five years for allegedly practicing witchcraft.

Source: BBC News http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/4822750.stm




Witch' family buried alive


Guwahati, 11 Jun 2008 | Telegraph: Four members of a family were stoned and buried alive in a village in Upper Assam's Sonitpur district last night after a kangaroo court found them guilty of practising witchcraft and sentenced them to death.


The victims — Lakhan Majhi, 65, his wife Sumoni, 60, son Durga, 45, and daughter-in law Sabitri, 35 — incurred the wrath of villagers in Koilajuli Milanpur after a 21-year-old youth, Gobinda, died on Saturday.


Sonitpur superintendent of police Munna Prasad Gupta said Gobinda had died after prolonged illness, but the villagers held Lakhan, who used to regularly perform puja at Gobinda's residence, responsible for his death.


The villagers summoned the Majhis to village headman Bhutkori Majhi's house for a public hearing last night.


"The entire village was present at Bhutkori's house. The elders charged the Majhis with casting evil spells on Gobinda that resulted in his death," an officer at Biswanath Chariali police station, under which the village falls, said.


The villagers then stoned the four and buried them in a nearby jungle while they were still breathing.


When police reached the village this morning to exhume the bodies, all the males of the village had fled.


"We interrogated a few women who said the men of the village had crushed the victims' heads with bricks and stones and buried them even before they died," the officer said. He added that the headman was the main accused and the police were looking for him.


This is the second time that alleged witches have been murdered in Biswanath Chariali in the past two years.


On March 18, 2006, five members of a family were beheaded by a mob at Sadharu tea estate in the heart of Biswanath Chariali. The mob then marched to a police station with the heads, chanting slogans against witchcraft and black magic.


Amir Munda, 60, his two sons and two daughters were beheaded after a mysterious ailment struck the labour lines.


Two garden workers died while several others were afflicted by the disease.


Soon, the community's suspicions fell on Munda.


The labourers called a meeting, to which Munda was also invited. When he fled with his family, their suspicion turned to conviction.


Munda's pursuers caught him and held a kangaroo court. When Munda denied practising witchcraft, he was beaten until he "confessed" his entire family's involvement in occult practices. The court sentenced them to death.


According to police records, over 200 people have been killed in Assam in the past seven years for allegedly practising witchcraft.


Assam police have launched campaigns in Sonitpur and Lower Assam's Kokrajhar district to educate people against witch-hunts.

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