There are often reports in the local media of creepy rituals in graveyards on moonless nights and witchdoctors arrested for exhuming corpses in Chamrajnagar. (HT Photo)

The headless torsos of the two Dalit labourers – Nanjaiah (60) and Krishnaiah (47) – were still warm when the police found them at a banana plantation, off National Highway 209, on the afternoon of March 19.

Mahadeva, the plantation’s owner and alleged murderer, was found minutes later hiding under sheets of dried banana leaves just 50 feet away. He confessed to the crime and, after some rough treatment from the police, led them to a Mango tree where he had hidden the two heads in a sack.

Gory though it might have been the murder seemed fairly straightforward at the time. It appeared as a brief report in the crime columns of newspapers that were struggling to keep pace with developments in the IAS officer D K Ravi case.

The double murder had almost faded from public memory when a group of Dalit activists, who conducted an independent investigation, made a startling claim last week.

“Nanjaiah and Krishnaiah were sacrificed. It was a clear case of witchcraft. Mahadeva is a known sorcerer,” claims Sanghasena the district President of the Samata Sainik Dal who led the fact-finding team. It would have been easy to dismiss these claims as outlandish if this were any other district.

Just 60 kilometres from the city of Mysore, Chamrajnagar is classified as one of the most backward districts of Karnataka. It also has a history of macabre superstitious practices and bizarre legends. A widely held belief in the State’s political circles since the 1980s is that Chamrajnagar is under an ‘evil spell’ and a Chief Minister who sets foot into the district will lose his job.

Siddaramaiah, an atheist, deflated the myth in October 2013 by becoming the first CM in more than 20 years to visit Chamrajnagar. Ironically, many senior politicians, including at least two former CMs, are known to visit sorcerers in the district to cast or break “magical” spells.

There are often reports in the local media of creepy rituals in graveyards on moonless nights and witchdoctors arrested for exhuming corpses. But nobody can remember the last time a human was sacrificed here.

Sanghasena’s team,however, is confident. “The first thing that struck us,” he says , “there were no other injuries on the bodies. Just the heads had been taken away and hidden. The killer seemed disinterested in the bodies and made no effort to hide them.”

Kavi Lakshmana, another team member, says, “An adult human has at least five liters of blood. There was just a dribbling of blood near the bodies and the sack in which the heads were found. The blood is still missing.” Sanghasena also points out that March 19 was Amavas (no moon night) – a time of month considered extremely auspicious by occult practitioners.

Both say that Mahadeva is a priest at the temple of Rakkasamma, a female deity, located just meters from where the bodies were found. They say he also performed animal sacrifice rituals for Rakkasamma frequently. These claims were confirmed by residents of the village chosen at random by HT.

Speaking to HT, Dr. D R Mahadeshwara Prasad, the government forensic expert who conducted the Post Mortem confirms, “There were no other open wounds. The victims were first struck by a blunt object on the head and rendered unconscious. The heads were chopped off immediately after.”

Asked to vet the sacrifice theory, Dr. Aravind Malagatti – an expert on Black Magic practices – says, “The blood and head are two most important components of a sacrificial ritual. The victim should not have any other open wound besides the slit on the neck. And the ritual can only be held on a moonless night.”

The human sacrifice theory, however, is hotly contested by other Dalit leaders. “Untouchability is still widely practiced in Chamrajnagar at hotels, schools and temples. When Dalits are not allowed entry into temples, how can they be offered in sacrifice?” asks Siddaraju, State Coordinator of the National Campaign for Dalit Human Rights. He says, “Nanjaiah and Krishnaiah refused a task Mahadeva had set for them. Mahadeva couldn’t stomach this disobedience from persons of a lowered caste and killed them on the spot.”

Dr. Malagatti, also a member of the drafting committee for the Karnataka anti-superstition Bill, disagrees and says, “Strangely Dalits, whom are otherwise considered untouchable, are actually preferred for sacrifice.”

Irrespective of which theory they subscribe to, all Dalit leaders here feel that two men could not have been killed by just one man armed with a sickle. They feel the other culprits are being protected by the police.

With Dalit organisations threatening to shut down the district if the case is not handed over to the CBI, Chamrajnagar Superintendent of Police Rangaswamy Nayak is calling for patience and insists that the police are doing a good job.

A brief interaction with the Investigating Officer, Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP) M Mahantesh, however, reveals gaping holes in the investigation.

Sanghasena’s group took photos of five beer bottles hidden under dried coconut fronds near the murder spot and a wooden chopping block on which they claim the heads were severed. But DSP Mahantesh says, “We found only a sickle and a shovel.”

Asked why certain articles of clothing belonging to the victims are still on the spot of the crime, he says, “All that is not necessary.” Could one man have done this? “Yes, the labourers were physically weak,” he says. Why are there no other signs of struggle? A person being attacked would at least use their hands as a shield. “They were too old and weak,” he repeats to which Siddaraju later says, “They were hardy farmhands who worked between 8 and 10 hours a day.”

DSP Mahantesh also claims that Krishnaiah’s son, Mahesh, informed the police of the crime. But Mahesh says, “By the time I reached the spot the police were already there as were hundreds of others. I first spoke to the police six hours after the crime.”

Mahadevamma, Nanjaiah’s wife, as well as Mahesh say that, on the day they were killed, the two labourers were summoned to work at around 5 am by a local Congress leader, notorious for patronizing witchdoctors in the region. “That’s not true. The workers had been called to work by the killer [Mahadev],” says DSP Mahantesh.

Dalit organisations agitating for a CBI enquiry point to a conflict of interest and say that the alleged killer, the Congress leader who allegedly hired the workers, the investigating officer as well as the district in-charge minister are from the same caste. “An objective investigation is just impossible under these circumstances,” insists Sanghasena.