GUWAHATI, Aug 18 - Thirty-one out of the 50 villagers interrogated by the police in the gruesome mob lynching of a couple in Tinsukia district on Tuesday last have confessed to their role in killing them, arguing that the couple were �witches� responsible for spreading evil, and that by killing them the villagers brought �freedom� to the village coinciding with the country�s Independence Day!
The scourge has once again caught the State off guard in dealing with superstition-linked crimes like witch-hunting, with even the law enforcers realising its enormity beyond just a law-and-order situation.
While the strong legal tool in the form of the Assam Witch Hunting (Prohibition, Prevention and Protection) Bill 2015 is gathering dust at the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) for the President�s nod, a mechanism to deal with superstition-infested mindsets, with illiteracy and health issues in the backdrop, is yet to be designed.
Dilip Kishan (55) and his wife, Shibaratri Kishan (50), of Line No. 10 of the Hansara Division of Raidang Tea Estate under Doomdooma PS were killed on Tuesday night. �Police have collected evidence and fingerprints, etc., and 31 accused, including 17 women, have been sent to judicial custody. However, the accused confessed to their crime with weird pride, equating themselves with freedom fighters for freeing the village from evil forces,� Mugdhajyoti Mahanta, Tinsukia SP, told this reporter.
It may be noted that the place of the incident had already been identified as a �black zone� by the police for high prevalence of superstitious practices, precisely witch-hunting. Awareness meetings were also conducted in the village nearly two months back. In Tinsukia alone, the police have identified nine such vulnerable spots, mostly in and around tea gardens with high prevalence of superstitious misconceptions, and holding the threat perception of violent incidents due to such beliefs.
The police are further investigating a possible mental health angle like the prevalence of Parkinson�s disease among the elderly in such backward areas.
�Preliminary investigations suggest the possibility of some mental health issues with the victim, Dilip Kishan, that might have been misunderstood as �witchery� by the villagers. We are trying to fetch some medical records of the victims to ascertain the facts. Large-scale usage of aluminium utensils and some other food and sanitation habits among the communities of interior areas is a matter of further investigative studies,� Mahanta added.
The Assam Tea Tribes Students� Association (ATTSA) president, Rajen Kumar, said that illiteracy and dismal health facilities provide ample breeding ground for such practices among tea communities, which is a grave cause of concern.
�Of late, we have realised that the number of superstition-related cases has gone up among the tea tribe population. We are planning a concerted awareness drive, making the people understand the socio-legal implications of such crimes. Only a sustainable awareness programme can help people come out of age-old superstitious beliefs,� Kumar said.