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Cops stop ‘purification’

- Four, branded witches in Majuli village, rescued

Jorhat, Nov. 28: Police swung into action late last night to rescue the four persons who were branded witches and sorcerers in Bhotiamari village in Majuli.

The four were rescued from the Shiva Parvati temple in the village where the villagers had taken them for a “purification ritual” after the police had a long discussion with them.

T. Bora, officer-in-charge of Kamalabari police station, under which Bhotiamari falls, said today that one person had been arrested in connection with the case.

He said Puneswar Panging of Shikari Gaon, the youth “possessed” by Goddess Lakshmi on whose behest 33 people in that village had undergone a “purification ritual”, was present at the temple yesterday and slipped out at night.

“We informed our Garmur counterparts to detain Panging and this is one of the reasons why the villagers decided to free the four persons. They must have felt demoralised when they heard their main man in this witch-hunt drama had been detained,” he said.

The police officer said the environment in Bhotiamari did not resemble the one at Shikari Gaon where there was a marked devotional hysteria. “Here, the things are more ordered and the people are willing to listen possibly because many of the villagers are educated and the place is more developed.”

Of the four rescued persons, one was seriously injured and has been referred for treatment to Jorhat Medical College and Hospital. Bora said one of the women who had been rescued, Tultuli Payeng, had been heckled, while Binod Payeng was badly beaten up because he attempted to run away after being branded a “sorcerer”.

The villagers had chased him and brought him back, according to the police officer.

Payeng, recovering in the hospital, today said he had been unnecessarily beaten up and his family also harassed.

A source said even today the seven women who were supposed to possess “divine powers” were being worshipped at the temple adjoining the village but there was no further talk of witch-hunting.

Punya Saikia, resident of a nearby village, said the situation had become worse today with five more “possessed” women joining the other seven already inside the temple.

“A few other mediapersons and I had ventured near the temple. But we were heckled and driven out of the place by some youths who did not want us to write about anything,” he said.

Majuli subdivisional officer (civil) Laya Madduri said the administration was monitoring the situation closely. “The arrest was made after a few persons dared to come to us. More arrests would be made if complaints were filed,” she said.