Kokrajhar, Aug. 22: The brutal murder of three elderly persons last night in two suspected cases of witch-hunting in two villages around 15km from here has spurred activists to demand a stringent law to check the trend.
Biren Basumatary, 60, and his wife Sukeswari, 55, died in Milanpur village after being attacked with sharp weapons around 10.30 last night, while Govinda Rabha, 64, of neighbouring Auguri village, met the same fate around 11pm.
Police officers rushed to the spot to take stock of the situation. The crimes are being investigated, the police said.
The distance between the two villages is around 1km and it is suspected that the same group committed both crimes, as the modus operandi was the same — the victims’ throats were slit and their bodies had cut marks.
Basumatary’s daughter-in-law, Tillep, said nearly a dozen persons carrying sharp weapons came and banged on the door of the elderly couple’s room. They barged in and attacked Sukeswari and then her husband, killing them on the spot.
Sources said the villagers had held a meeting a few years back regarding a suspicion that Sukeswari practised black magic.
At Auguri, Rabha’s daughter Nirola said a similar group had attacked her father, killing him, too, on the spot.
The attacks have spurred social activists into demanding legislation to check crimes based on superstition, as witch-hunts have resulted in several deaths in the Bodo belt and among tea tribes in the past.
They pointed to Tuesday’s murder of rationalist Narendra Dabholkar in Pune and Maharashtra government’s subsequent decision to promulgate an ordinance against superstition and black magic.
“Witch-hunting cases are dealt with under Section 323 IPC that prescribes just one year of imprisonment and a fine of just Rs 1,000. Such laxity could tempt criminals to commit heinous crimes for selfish gains under the guise of witch-hunting,” social activist Pratibha Brahma said. She added that a stringent law should be able to combat the menace of witch-hunts in vulnerable areas in Assam.
The All Bodo Students’ Union (Absu), which has been trying to mobilise sentiments against witch-hunting in affected areas, also believes a stringent law will solve the problem to a great extent. “Despite efforts being made by different institutions to eradicate the practice, a stringent law to check the social evil is a must,” Absu’s Kokrajhar district committee president Lorence Islary said.
Though various social and civil society organisations are making a collective effort to eradicate the social evil, results are not forthcoming because of an alleged lack of initiative and strong action from the administration and police.