Monday, 30th October 2017

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Death on pathalgadi turf

3 hostage policemen yet to be traced in Khunti, stampede after loudspeaker talks fail

By A.S.R.P. Mukesh & Sudhir Kumar Mishra
  • Published 28.06.18

Khunti/Ranchi: A pathalgadi supporter died reportedly in a stampede in Ghaghra village of Khunti, around 55km from the capital, on Wednesday when police lathi-charged and fired teargas to disperse a hostile crowd resisting their attempts to trace three cops taken hostage from the home of Khunti MP Karia Munda on Tuesday.

The three policemen haven't been traced though police have arrested or detained over 200 alleged pathalgadi supporters, including the priest of a church, and put them in camp jail at Khunti headquarters, 6km from Ghaghra.

The 45-year-old man who died in stampede has not yet been identified. Local sources claimed a police baton hit him on the head. When he fell amid the milling crowd, many ran over him, injuring him fatally.

From Tuesday late afternoon, over 500 policemen and many district officials had been camping outside village Ghaghra, after "thousands" of pathalgadi supporters forced 200 policemen - who had attached pathalgadi pioneer Joseph Purty's house in Kochang village and were searching for four accused in the June 19 gang rape of social workers - to retreat. Then, pathalgadi supporters, led by at least 100 women, had stormed the MP's home in Anigara village, overpowered three armed guards and led them away to force a dialogue with police.

Talks on loudspeakers between police, officials camping on the fringes of Ghaghra and pathalgadi leaders in the village went on till 6am on Wednesday, but ended in deadlock. Police could not convince villagers to free the hostages.

Pathalgadi supporters wanted to send 10 women from among them to talk to mahila police. But, male officers did not agree to send their female colleagues on this critical mission, it has been learnt.

From 6am onwards, over 500 policemen started advancing towards Ghaghra to hunt for the three hostages. A tip-off that the three captured policemen were kept at the village school proved misleading. Police on microphones asked villagers for information and interrogated many, which villagers dubbed high-handed, said local sources.

From 7am onwards, as villagers grew angry, police fired rounds of teargas shells and caned a crowd of around 400, leading to the stampede death.

MP Karia Munda, who is in Delhi, told this newspaper on Wednesday that he had repeatedly spoken on pathalgadi, holding dear the ancient tribal practice of honouring ancestors, and slamming the ritual's recent hijacking by separatist forces for self-rule, but also that the movement spoke of a worrying lack of people's trust in government machinery.

"Why don't you ask Raghubar Das (chief minister) about this? I have asked the state government to deal with the pathalgadi movement with sensitivity. It is the responsibility of state government to free my guards who are like my family members. Being a disciplined BJP worker and party MP, I cannot comment beyond this," he said over phone.

ADG (operations) and senior police spokesperson R.K. Mallick confirmed the stampede death and stressed the police were prepared to deal with any eventuality in Khunti. "Statements of those arrested prove how secessionists are misleading villagers," he said.