A 45-year old woman in Jharkhand’s West Singhbhum district was allegedly stripped, beaten up and gang-raped by men, who suspected her of practising witchcraft, police said on Friday.
A resident of Serengsia village under Tonto police station, the woman registered a complaint against the six men five days after the incident on June 15. Four men have been arrested and two are absconding.
The men forcibly took the woman away on June 10 while she was sleeping with her three children in her house. Her husband, who works as a contract worker, was away in Jamshedpur.
They accused her of bringing misfortune to a villager and branded her a ‘dayan’ or a witch.
She was taken to the house of Luria Laguri, who was ill, and was asked to cure her. She was beaten up mercilessly, stripped and asked to dance. When she fell unconscious, Ramesh Laguri and Mangal Singh Laguri allegedly took her to a nearby school’s toilet and raped her.
The next morning they paraded her in the village and branded her a witch.
Police on Thursday arrested Ashish Laguri, Ramesh Laguri, Mangal Singh Laguri and Bahadur Laguri in connection with the crime. Two others, Mantri Laguri and Jingi Laguri, are absconding.
“The four arrested accused have been sent to jail and other two will be arrested soon. The victim has been sent to her brother’s residence after medical examination,” officer-in-charge of Tonto police station, Bamshankar Yadav, said.
She is safe there and the police will ensure she gets justice, the officer said.
“Prima facie it seems to be a case of ‘superstition’ and ignorance. The woman was charged with witchcraft practices earlier too. The villagers are afraid of the accused youths for their violent approach in day to day village affairs. Police are investigating if they have victimised other women earlier too,” Yadav said.
He said that police are investigating the involvement of others villagers in the incident.
Incidents of witch-hunting continue to occur in Jharkhand despite a statewide ban.
In March, minister of state for home Haribhai Parathibhai Chaudhary told the Rajya Sabha that as many as 127 women were lynched in Jharkhand between 2012-14 after being branded as witches.
Branding women as witches is particularly prevalent among tribal communities in the state. The person branded a witch is often held responsible for illness, crop failures, property loss, or a natural calamity.
Experts say superstitious beliefs are behind some of these attacks, but there are occasions when people are targeted for their land and property.
“Villagers charge women of practising witchcraft to make them dance to their tune and subject them to torture in the name of dayan,” Basanti Besra, convenor of West Singhbhum Zila Mahila Samiti said.
“Literacy and campaign against superstition are required to save women from such heinous crime. Health facilities in also needed to cure villagers of diseases and let not women being charged for illness or death of a particular person,” Besra added.
According to National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data for 2014, tribal-dominated Jharkhand accounted for over 30% of India’s “murders for witchcraft”.