Jorhat, Oct. 18: Clad in a mekhela sador with rings in his ears, a teenaged boy claiming to be possessed by Goddess Lakshmi planted flags on the bank of the Brahmaputra and predicted the river would move away from his village in a remote part of Majuli.
Under this guise, he pinpointed 35 people in his village Shikari Gaon to be allegedly involved in tantric (occult) practices for the past fortnight, which lead residents to plan for a major witchhunt.
In a bid to avert another tragedy, anti-witchcraft activists like Birubala Rabha of Goalpara and Dibyajyoti Saikia, who heads the Guwahati-based NGO Brothers, descended on Majuli to remove superstitious beliefs from the minds of villagers in this almost inaccessible village, 70km from Garmur, the sub-divisional headquarters of Majuli.
The story goes that Krishna, a woman from Dhakuakhana in Lakhimpur district visited the village on October 1 and said there were a number of people who practised witchcraft in Shikari Gaon. She even identified three of them. She also pointed out that Puneswar Panging, the teenaged boy, would be able to identify the remaining persons. On October 4, Panging went from house to house and pointed out 35 in which tantricism was allegedly being practised.
“He then built a tin-roofed temple for himself in the village and asked these 35 people to come to the temple to be exorcised. Some came by themselves and the reluctant ones were forcibly brought to him. Interestingly, four of them also confessed to be bez (practitioners of traditional medicine) and tantrics. One even went to the extent of saying that he had been involved in the killing of a number of people. These people were then made to take a dip in the river and some of them were even slapped by their relatives,” Saikia said.
“As the people were getting ready to take more stringent action, which could have resulted in killings, we along with some villagers somehow managed to abort another witchhunt. In 1988, two persons, one in Shikari Gaon and another person in neighbouring Lasson Gaon, had been branded witches and killed,” he added.
Rabha told this correspondent that she had arrived at the village on Monday and had stayed there for three days to carry out a campaign so that no untoward incident took place. “I have come away today after being satisfied that the people will not commit any crime,” she said.
The “exorcism” of three persons scheduled for today was also cancelled and the activists are hopeful the ignorance of the people has been dispelled to some extent, if not altogether.
Saikia, too, arrived on the scene almost at the same time and is still camping there. “When I came to know about the matter, I immediately informed the inspector-general of police and additional director-general of police (law and order) in Guwahati about the issue and then made my way here,” he said.
He said in today’s meeting, the villagers had promised not to kill anyone, nor eat meat on Mondays and Thursdays and even become teetotallers. He added that reporters had been strictly forbidden to enter the village and photography of any kind was not allowed.