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Guards at village gates for ‘witches’
- Neighbours bent on preventing her homecoming, Haridasi says it’s all because of 12 bighas

Balaighata, Sept. 4: About a kilometre from National Highway 34, residents line the en- try to a village armed with sti-cks and sickles.

They pick up their ears whenever they hear an approaching vehicle.

“Babus” from the town came there thrice in the past two days and were turned back — because the residents of Balaighata will not allow a “witch” family to return to home.

Sixty kilometres from Calcutta, the fear of a black magic spell that a witch doctor said Haridasi’s family could cast, has rendered its 15 members homeless and led to the closure of a school near their house.

Haridasi, her four sons and their wives and six children have been held responsible for the deaths of people and livestock in the village over the past month.

They were driven out of their home on Friday because they were “evil”. They were driven out of a police station where they had taken shelter two days later.

The house that they left behind has been virtually pulled down by neighbours des- perate to rid the village of the witch family.

Ranaghat-I block development officer Amit Bose went there last evening under ins-tructions from his boss to pacify the villagers and persuade them to let Haridasi and her family come back.

“Go back,” they told him. “We don’t want that family. We will never allow them here.”

Sunil Sardar, a landless villager who stood guard at the village gates, said they were all united. “We will fight their return with whatever we can lay our hands on,” he added.

The primary school next to Haridasi’s house has been closed lest the little pupils are harmed by their spirits. “We’ll not send our children to school as we are convinced that they will fall ill if they venture close to that house,” said Sumitra Sardar, a housewife.

Krishnapada Biswas, the headmaster, was scared to speak. “Please don’t ask me anything,” Biswas said with folded hands.

Haridasi and her family were today given shelter in the Ranaghat-I block development office.

Bose, the BDO, said the witch tag has haunted the family for years. “Six years ago, Haridasi and her late husband Kalipada were beaten up by villagers after being accused of being witches. But then the administration had been able to persuade the villagers to take them back.”

Today, 65-year-old Haridasi was weeding the lawn outside her makeshift home — a three-room single-storey staff quarters in the BDO’s office.

Asked why her family was being branded witches, she broke down. “Do you want to know the truth'” she asked after regaining her composure.

“We’ve been called witches because my late husband worked hard and improved our financial condition. Today, we are the wealthiest family in the village owning 12 bighas,” she said.

Kabita, her daughter-in-law, said: “We were landless about a decade ago. But my father-in-law worked hard and bought land for cultivation when the other villagers sold their plots to keep up their drinking habits.”

Away from home, Haridasi and her family are penniless. They were not allowed to carry anything along while being shooed away by fellow villagers. They now depend on the Nadia district authorities for their two meals a day.

“We have lost everything. We could not bring any money with us and now our children are starving,” Kabita said.

Today, her husband and his brothers were not at home. They were in Ranaghat town, begging for food and other essentials.

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