Jorhat, Dec. 2: The Majuli sub-divisional administration has decided to take to task gaon burhas (village headmen) who do not immediately inform it of any illegal activity conducted by an individual or group on innocent villagers in the name of witchcraft.
The move comes in the wake of two incidents of witch-hunting on the island in the past month where innocent villagers were branded witches and “purification ceremonies” conducted.
Official sources said Dispur recently asked the district administrations in areas affected by such incidents to take tough measures to prevent crimes. It sought an end to superstitious practices and the involvement of civil society to do away with such false beliefs in view of rising incidents of people being killed after being accused of practising witchcraft.
In the second incident in Majuli, the island administration last week acted swiftly and rescued four persons from the Shiva Parvati temple in Bhotiamari village after they were branded witches and sorcerers. Of the four rescued persons (two men and two women), one was seriously injured and is undergoing treatment at Jorhat Medical College and Hospital. The four were accused of practising witchcraft by the arrested persons, who claimed to be possessed by Hindu deities.
One more person, Indrajit Payeng, was arrested today in connection with the second incident, taking the number of arrested persons to five, including three women. Sources said people from the village lodged a complaint about the illegal ceremony on which police acted immediately.
Majuli subdivisional officer (civil) Laya Madduri told The Telegraph today that the administration has already reprimanded the gaon burahs of Shikari gaon (first incident) and Bhotiamari gaon for not informing the police/administration immediately.
She said that the gaon burahs are appointed by the government and the post carries a lot of responsibility as they have been authorised to discharge several official duties. The SDO said being government-appointed persons who are paid an honorarium, they have a legal responsibility to inform the administration if anything illegal takes place.
“By next week we will organise a meeting with the 117 gaon burahs of Majuli. We will tell them if any illegal incident like purifying people after branding them as witches were conducted or anyone tortured in their villages, they will have to immediately inform the administration,” Madduri said.
She said that failing to do so they (gaon burahs) will be held responsible and legal action initiated against them for indirectly supporting illegal action.
She said gaon panchayat functionaries, too, would be requested to intervene and educate the people against the superstitions. The SDO said ASHA workers have been asked to spread awareness.
In October, a similar incident occurred at Shikari gaon where 33 persons underwent a “purification ceremony” after a youth, Puneswar Panging, donned a mekhela sador and claimed he possessed divine powers.
After this bizarre act, 33 persons were accused of practising witchcraft.