A mother and a daughter were conveniently labeled witches in order to be raped and killed on Tuesday. The arrested ‘witch-hunters’ confessed this on Thursday.
The police in north-central Assam’s Sonitpur district had on Tuesday found four bodies in a ditch in Monabarie Tea Estate, Asia’s largest. The bodies – of Binanda Gaur, 46, his wife Karishma Gaur, 36, daughter Naina, 15, and a neighbour Manglu Mour, 14 – bore multiple injury marks and the faces were burnt by acid.
The police suspected it to be a case of witch-hunting, fairly prevalent across tea plantations. But the arrest of six of the seven ‘witch-hunters’ Thursday morning revealed there was a system to the madness.
“We recovered some instruments used in the killing, but it was not a case of witch-hunting,” said Sonitpur district police chief AP Tiwari.
Tiku Orang, one of those arrested, admitted they were instigated by one Surat Modi to accuse Binanda Gaur and his family members of practicing witchcraft that caused sickness among plantation workers. But the real motive was the lust for Binanda’s wife and daughter.
The mother and daughter were dragged out to the ditch at midnight, raped and killed. Gaur and teenager Mour had been killed earlier.
Black magic, witchcraft and superstitious beliefs have been part of tribal customs in Assam and other northeastern states. According to a conservative estimate, some 150 people have been killed in the past five years for allegedly practicing witchcraft in Assam.
In a bid to check this practice, the Assam police had launched Project Prahari entailing community policing and awareness drives. Officials involved with the project said women often fall victims of witch-hunt owing to property disputes. "Sexual assault appears to be a new phenomenon," said a senior police officer.