Dalit widows branded witches, one dies after `torture'

Indian Express, 14th Sept 2000

RANCHI, SEPT 13: Two Dalit widows were branded witches and tortured, which led to the death of one of them, in Gaandi village of Angara block here.

According to Puran, 42, the farmer son of 75-year-old Jeetan Devi, she was tortured for two days before being killed. Her friend, Dubhan Devi, 70, was also blamed of being a witch and tortured. Jeetan Devi's body was sent to the Rajendra Medical College Hospital in Ranchi yesterday for post-mortem.

The trouble began when two residents of the village, Mahavir Baitha and his son Sohan, were told by an exorcist that Mahavir's 10-year-old daughter Bigni and Sohan's wife Laxmi, who probably died of jaundice and cerebral malaria, respectively, on September 10 and 11, succumbed to a spell cast by two witches -- Jeetan and Dubhan.

This followed the Baithas, their relatives and friends barging into Puran'shut. They reportedly pulled Jeetan out, set her clothes on fire, tonsured her and after beating her up, paraded her in the village, according to Puran's FIR filed at Angara police station on Monday.

Four persons named by Puran in his FIR -- Naresh Baitha, Mahesh Baitha, Sammbal Baitha and Suresh Baitha -- have been arrested. Mahavir and Sohan are untraceable.

After Puran reportedly begged for mercy, the Baithas locked up Jeetan in aroom and kept her there the whole night without food or water. Puran says he was helpless as the Baithas stood guard outside.

Next morning, the villagers led by Baitha are reported to have caught hold of Dubhan. ``She was also beaten up, tonsured and paraded naked in the village before being brought near the room where Jeetan was kept,'' said Ramkishore Manjhi, a resident of Gaandi, who claimed to have witnessed the incident.

According to Puran, Jeetan was later brought out of the room and made to sit on the ground near Dubhan. He said they were beaten up and earthen pitchers broken on their heads. As Jeetan succumbed to her injuries, the villagers dispersed, which saved Dubhan's life.

The Baithas lifted Jeetan's body and dumped it on an isolated burial ground in the village from where it was taken by the police to Angara police station on Monday evening.

Dubhan cannot be traced. According to a villager, the people have hidden her fearing that the Baithas may lynch her.

According to SP (Rural) Umesh Kumar, an investigation is on into the incident.

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