7 mutilated bodies found
West Singhbhum police and CRPF personnel on Wednesday morning found the mutilated bodies of seven villagers murdered on Monday night in the district’s Burugulikera forest, around 150km south of Jamshedpur.
West Singhbhum superintendent of police Inderjeet Mahatha said that though prima-facie the murders appeared to be the fallout of a fight between pro- and anti-pathalgadi groups, the cops were also probing whether the killings were sparked by personal enmity between two groups, one led by deputy mukhiya James Burh and another led by Raisingh Burh, the husband of former mukhiya Mukta Horo.
Pathalgadi, or the tribal custom of erecting stone plaques to honour ancestors, was tweaked by some tribal villages in Jharkhand in 2017-18 to assert land rights. The previous BJP government led by Raghubar Das had slapped sedition cases on thousands of people over the pathalgadi movement. The Hemant Soren government had quashed the FIRs on its first day in office.
The police and CRPF teams had started the search operation for the bodies on Tuesday night. On Wednesday morning they deployed the dog squad and also took help of villagers of Burugulikera — under Gudri police station area, around 80km from the district headquarters Chaibasa — to finally trace the bodies.
The seven men had been killed with axes and sticks and almost all the bodies were decapitated, police sources said.
The deceased have been identified as James Burh, Jawra Burh, Lomba Burh, Koje Topno, Etwa Burh, Nirmal Burh and Bobas Lomga, all residents of Burugulikera.
“We could identify the bodies with the help of villagers,” SP Mahatha said.
Police and CRPF personnel are camping in the village.
West Singhbhum deputy commissioner Arava Rajkamal, who also visited the village, said compensation as per government norms would be given to the family members of those killed.
“Based on primary investigation it was a fallout of dispute between two groups. The group whose members were killed had attacked and ransacked the house of Raisingh Burh on January 16,” SP Mahatha said. “A meeting was called by the gram sabha on January 19 (Sunday) where there were heated exchanges and the group owing allegiance to Raisingh Burh started beating James Burh and his men. The frightened villagers dispersed. Strangely, neither side informed police. It was only yesterday (Tuesday) that we got some information from the village market about killing of the villagers and started the search operation.”
The SP said that the village’s remote location, nestled in hilly terrain, made the police’s task difficult.
“There is hardly any mobile network in the village and we could operate through only wireless phones. The villagers did not take the police into confidence which delayed and aggravated the issue. We are not ruling out the personal enmity between James Burh and Raisingh Burh leading to such a heinous crime. However, there is no rebel involvement in the entire episode,” said SP Mahatha.
The area is a stronghold of the outlawed PLFI.
Police sources said Raisingh and several of the villagers were supporters of autonomous rule of the Sati-Pati cult of Valsad district of Gujarat and had pictures of Keshri Sinh, founder of the cult which believes that natural resources like forest, land and rivers were gifted by Queen Victoria to Keshri Sinh and dissociate themselves with any activity propagated by the state and central governments.
“The group led by James Burh did not identify with this cult and had attacked and ransacked their houses on January 16. They (the Raisingh group) were waiting for revenge and during the meeting called to pacify each other they took out their grouse against James Burh and his supporters,” said a highly placed police source.
SP Mahatha said that two persons from each group were still missing. “The group led by Raisingh Burh claim that two persons, Lodra Burh and Roshan Borjo, were thrashed by James and his men and are still missing since January 16 night. Family members of James claimed that two persons, Bushra Burh and Sukuwa Burh, are also missing since Sunday’s meeting. We have asked both the factions to lodge separate FIRs. We have detained three persons for interrogation over the massacre. All involved in the massacre would be punished,” said Mahatha.