Government’s decision to halt a maiden ‘ghosts fair’ being held in Jharkhand’s Palamu district despite prohibition orders led to a violent clash between agitated villagers and police on Wednesday claiming life of a villager and leaving several others, including policemen, injured.
Police had to resort to firing on the superstitious villagers who resisted the arrest of a sorcerer and attacked a patrol party of Indian Reserve Police (IRB) force with lathis and stones. Sounds of intermittent gun shots were being all over the venue for at least an hour raising suspicion that the villagers also carried firearms and fired at police.
By the time of filing of this report, senior police officials from across the district highly affected by Maoist menace had rushed to the banks of Jhariva river under Naudiha police station where the fair was being held to control the rioting mob.
Till the last count, six persons with bullet injuries mostly below their waists were admitted to the local hospital for treatment. Half a dozen policemen hit by stones were also undergoing treatment.
“The crowd has dispersed and the stone pelting has stopped. We will have to wait to see whether the villagers and sorcerers return to the venue on Thursday violating the prohibition orders,” DIG Saket Singh told HT.
Jharkhand is prone to superstitious practices. Large scale illiteracy—34 % of Jharkhand’s population is still illiterate against national literacy of 75%-- coupled with deplorable health condition in rural areas where you have a doctor for every 19,000 population, has left majority of the rural masses rely on quacks and witch doctors.
These witch-doctors and sorcerers have penetrated deep into the social and religious fabric of the tribal and deprived populace virtually making them dance to their tunes in several districts. Courtesy these witch-doctors, more than 1500 women have been killed on suspicion of practicing witchcraft in the state over the last 15 years.
Eye-witnesses said that around 2 pm, a platoon of IRB jawans led by local police reached the fair spot and arrested a witch-doctor, Ramesh Bhuiyan attending ‘patients’ who were supposedly under the influence of evil spirits.
As they began returning to their picket with Bhuiyan, the 2000-odd mob at the fair attacked them, snatched the rifle of constable Ram Lakhan Paswan and ruthlessly assaulted him.
The uniformed men had to fire at least 10 bullets to save their lives, protect their weapons and disperse the mob adamant on freeing the witch-doctor.
In the ensuing melee that lasted for more than an hour, at least 15 people including policemen were injured while villager, Rafiq Ansari died of gunshot injury.
Palamu police superintendent Mayur Patel and local BJP legislator Radha Krishna Kishore reached the spot in the evening and tried to pacify the agitated mob. “Things are under control,” Patel told reporters at the venue.
“In Jharkhand’s hinterland, parents and elders pass on superstitious beliefs among children and hence this unruly situation,” said local GLA College psychology professor, Dr Dharmendra Kumar Singh. He said parents, family members and society play a major role in promoting superstition. “Insecurity and lack of awareness makes these gullible masses become slaves of witch-doctors who exploit their weakness and fool them around.”