Ranchi, Oct. 7: A teenager was killed after police opened fire at a gathering of witch-doctors when local villagers who had organised a bhoot mela at a rebel-hit village, 70km from Palamau district headquarters, resisted attempts to shut them down.
Ali Hussain Ansari (15) died after police opened fire to disperse a gathering of quacks, locally called bhoot mela, at Karketta village in Palamau's underdeveloped Naudiha thana area.
Five other villagers, including a woman, and seven jawans of India Reserve Battalion (IRB), were also injured in the clash between villagers and the police.
Villagers Chotu Kumar, Daroga Singh, Shanker Kumar, Anil Kumar and Kaili Devi, as well as IRB jawans Ram Lakhan Paswan, Muneshwar Mehta, Dilip Khatri, Pankaj Kumar Singh, Kailash Rajak, Jeevan Jyoti Tirkey and Deonarayan were hospitalised.
Latest evening reports say they are all out of danger.
Prohibitory orders under Section 144 CrPC have been clamped in the area that is tense but under control.
Police spokesperson S.N. Pradhan said the incident took place around 3.30pm when police tried to prevent villagers from holding the bhoot mela.
Asked how the clash started, Pradhan said: "When the police tried to stop villagers from holding this fair, they started pelting stones and the clash intensified."
Palamau deputy commissioner K. Srinivasan said they wanted to take stern action against the fair that spread superstitious beliefs, leading to women getting branded as witches, being tortured and killed.
"Six days ago, when we got information that the local mukhiya along with some villagers had planned to arrange a bhoot mela, we tried to convince them then and there against doing so. But, despite our objections, the mela was arranged today. So, when the police arrived, villagers surrounded them and attacked them. When they tried to snatch weapons, police were forced to open fire," he said.
Bhoot mela, an age-old practice, focuses on the so-called curative aspects of village quacks, with articles such as incense sticks, brooms, black chickens being best-sellers. Insanity is diagnosed as the evil influence of the bhoot (ghost or evil spirit), which quacks claim to be able to drive away.
Often, husbands bring "mentally unsound" wives at such fairs and request quacks to cure them. Women are also compelled to dance at the fair.