Ranchi deputy commissioner Manoj Kumar said though many women, particularly widows, are usually killed over family disputes and land grabs on the pretext of ‘witch hunts’, this particular incident was born out of pure superstition.
The villagers accused the women of using ‘black magic’ on children, causing illnesses and fatalities among them. The villagers’ anger was triggered by the death of an 18-year-old boy who had fallen ill last week. “Around 100 villagers armed with traditional weapons broke into five houses, dragged the women by their hair, stripped them and took them to a nearby clearing where they held an assembly before killing them,” Kumar said.
The assailants used knives, batons, stones to beat the women to death, DSP Sandeep Kumar Gupta said. The slain women were Rasia Khalkho, Jacinta Khalkho, Etwariya Khalkho, Mandi Bhaktain and Titri Khalkho, all residents of Kanjiya Maraitoli.
The 60-year-old Matias Khalkho, husband of Jacinta, said: “We begged them for mercy, but none of the assailants listened to us.” The two sons of another victim, Etwariya, jumped over the mud wall to escape the attackers who tried to target them when they protested. “The attackers blamed the recent death of a boy on my mother,” Etwariya’s daughter Agni Oroan told TOI.
A villager who did not want to be named said these women have killed five children with their black magic in the last six months. The death of 18-year-old Punit Khalkho united the villagers. “They held a meeting on Tuesday and decided to eliminate the women to stop such deaths. None of the villagers informed the police about their plans,” SSP Prabhat Kumar, who has been camping in the village since morning, said.
Mariyana Oraon, whose sister was also one of the victims, said: “We had no idea that they would target my sister. She was not a witch. She was a normal human being.” Like Mariyana, none of the victims thought they would be targeted.
The district police was surprised when over 50 villagers turned up before the Ranchi SSP and DC to confess. “Even small children claimed they had killed them. They wanted to remove the specter of death in the village and hey believed that the elimination of witches was important for that,” DIG Arun Kumar Singh said.