“This Could Have Been the Second Khairlanji”
Eknath Narayan Huke (70) and Prayagbai Eknath huke (64) accused by co-villagers of practising black magic
Witch-Hunt in the 21st Century
On 21st August a family of seven people were attacked by a violent mob of the same village and tied to pillars after being accused of being witches and practitioners of black magic. The incident took place in village Wani Khurd of Jivti Taluka, the southern-most block of Chandrapur district which borders Telengana.
The victims: Eknath Narayan Huke (70), Prayagbai Eknath Huke (64), Shantabai Bhagwan Kamble (55), Sahebrao Eknath Huke (48) Dhammashila Sudhakar Huke (38), Shivraj Pandurang Kamble (74), Panchfula Huke (60)
On 24th August we visited Wani Khurd and met family members of victims as well as the perpetrators. What emerged was a sad tale rooted in dismal poverty, lack of education and a superstitious mindset. The village itself is far-flung around 12 kms from Jivti with poor roads and poorer phone connections. There is a Zilla Parishad School which was locked. A temple and a Bouddh-Vihar were other prominent buildings in sight. The rains had turned the internal roads into slush and mud.
My Entire Life has Passed Hearing People Abuse My Father
In Jivti we met Sukumar Eknath Huke, a middle-aged man, the second son of Eknath Huke the main target of the mob attack.
With Sukumar Huke outside Jivti Police Station
“This has been going on for twenty or thirty years. My entire life has passed in facing this accusation that my father is doing jadu-tona. I have tried to reason with the villagers, but they refuse to listen. I am a mere furniture-maker. I go from village to village mending furniture. I have an elder brother, Sahebrao, who was also beaten and a younger brother Sudhakar who is so ill that he cannot get up. These accusations have increased in the last four to five years. Every time someone is ill or something goes wrong in the village, the entire village accuses my father. Four years ago, the villagers called a meeting and asked my father to stop his black magic. My father placed his hands on our heads and swore on his sons that he did not do black magic. But the people in my village are superstitious.
A few days back my father went to buy a packet of biscuits from the village shop. The girl at the shop accused my father of giving her coins covered in ‘sindoor’ and that he covered the packet with both hands while taking it from her hands. Later they accused that said that after he left the money in the cash box had reduced from several thousand rupees to a few notes.
During Muharram the villagers got together, collected money and called a ‘Sawari’ from Adilabad district. The Sawari comprised of more than seventy people who danced and went all around the village to each house – they came to our house also. After the Sawari left one woman in the village started making strange sounds. People started to say that someone had cast a black magic on her – she is afflicted with Bhanamati. The Sawari had left Wani Khurd on Tuesday and by Friday four women in the village were afflicted with Bhanamati.
On Saturday -21st August – at around 7 o’clock in the morning the entire village came together. There is another woman Shantabai who is also accused of being a witch. First the mob entered her house and pulled her out. Then they came to my house and shouted: “Ay Sukumar, go and call your father and mother. We have to talk to them about the black magic they are doing.” Seeing the crowd, I was extremely afraid and there was no other way but to walk with them to my father’s house. I entered the house and told my father that the people of the village had called him for a meeting. My parents and sister-in-law (wife of Sudhakar) and I went to the Chowk. The four Bhanamati-women were brought to the Chowk also. They were writhing on the ground and shouting. Then one of them got up and flung dirt at my father and shouted: ‘You did Bhanamati to me.’ The moment she shouted, the people started attacking him. There was nothing I or anyone could do. The entire village was angry and shouting. Then another Bhanamati-woman got up, flung dirt at my mother and shouted out her name. Then the mob started beating my mother. It went on like this. The women would shout the names and the mob would start beating with sticks.
My elder brother lives in Utnoor, Adilabad district. He had just arrived with his two daughters and wife for Rakshabandhan. The crowd did not even allow him to reach home. They pulled him from the road and started beating. They beat my family with sticks and kicked them and slapped them.
Then somebody shouted: ‘tie them up!’ Somebody found ropes and tied up my father, mother, brother, sister-in-law, uncle, aunt and Shantabai to pillars. There hands were tied above their heads, theirs legs were tied. They were weeping and in pain. My father’s hand is fractured in two places. My brother’s shoulder is fractured. Five of them are in the hospital.
This went on from 7 in the morning to 1 o’clock in the afternoon. One of our boys Anil Sonkamble informed the police and the crowd thrashed him too. The police untied my parents but they could not leave the village. The mob surrounded the police for almost forty-five minutes.”
It is His Own Fault
There was a posse of policemen placed at the entrance of Wani Khurd who did not stop us. We spoke to the people who had participated in the witch-hunt or were sympathetic to the attackers. Several accused had already been arrested and others had been picked up by the police that very morning. In spite of the police action and the media coverage, there appeared to be little remorse. On the contrary the women were enraged that people did not understand ‘their side of the story’, the pains and sufferings that the black magic had caused them over years. Here is their side of the story:
Narrating the Woes of ‘Black Magic Sufferers’
“Eknath Huke touched my son’s leg and he developed a sore. It was so bad that I had to get it operated.”
“They buried some coins under the lemon tree and the tree which used to be full of fruits just dried up overnight.”
“We were digging a borewell outside our house and we touched mud at a hundred feet. I was relieved that now we will get water. Then Eknath came and he took a ball of mud from the place where the digging was going on and put it in his pocket. Immediately dry dust started to come up. there was nothing but dust for 300 ft. I was afraid that all our savings would be spent in vain if we did not get water. I dragged the ball of mud from his pocket and smashed it near the borewell. Within twenty minutes we got water.”
“Now he has started doing Bhanamati on women. When I saw the women who were suffering the Bhanamati I had tears in my eyes. He and his wife and his sister and his son they are all doing jadu-tona. They were beaten because of their own fault.”
“We have already forgiven these people five times. Each time they place their hand on the heads of their children and go scot-free. How many times do you want us to forgive them? They should have stopped doing all this ‘Karni’. Instead the old man (Eknath Huke) started abusing us using filthy language. Of course, people got angry.”
“Do you think we are mad? Do we go about beating people? If they are getting beaten by the entire village then whose fault do you think it is?”
NGO and Political Response
A team lead by Dhananjay Tawade from the NGO Andhashraddha Nirmulan Samity which works for the cultivation of scientific temper in rural communities conducted a meeting-cum-workshop at Wani Khurd and they have taken the four women who were afflicted by Bhanamati for treatment. Although this is a welcome effort, long-term and sustained efforts are needed to bring people out of their superstitions. The women in Wani Khurd remained largely unconvinced by the ANS meeting. Their refrain was: Our women were afflicted with Bhanamati – they are not mad. They don’t have manasik azar (mental illness). So, what is the doctor going to treat them about?
Several political leaders including Balu Dhanorkar (M.P), Vijay Wadettiwar (Guardian Minister), Subhash Dhote (local MLA) have assured strict action in the matter.
At the local level politicians are exploiting the incident to get access to the various communities involved. Some politicians are in touch with the victims while others are helping the accused to procure bails.
The police are being congratulated for their prompt action and saving the lives of the victims. However there is also a feeling that there was a delay in making arrests. According to Inspector Santosh Ambike, incharge of Jivti police station, the police got the information of the incident at around 10.30 a.m. and reached the spot within the hour. But the angry mob did not dispel and the police could leave the village at around 1 p.m.
Eknath Huke’s home. Dhammashila Huke (38) (lying down) and Panchfula Huke (60) weep as they recall
Sandeep Sonkamble, a relative of the victims said, “This could have been a second Khairlanji if the police would not have arrived.”
The Jivti police registered the FIR on 21st August, initially under sections 325, 143,147,149, 342 IPC r/w Section 2 of the Maharashtra Prevention and Eradication of Human Sacrifice etc. Act. Later Section 3 (1) (zb) Atrocities Act was invoked against some of the accusers who belonged to the non-Sc/non-ST communities.
More than 20 people have been arrested and more arrests are imminent. 9 accused persons had obtained bail from the court.
Wani Khurd does not have a police patil appointed for the village which partially accounts for the delay in information to the police.
Was there a Caste Angle?
The village Wani Khurd is a small village of less than 100 houses. The two main communities are both Dalit communities. The Matang community comprises of around 40 houses and the Buddhists comprise around 25-27 houses. The rest are divided between Marathas, Kumbhars, Vartis, and Malis. There are no tribals in this particular village although there is a high tribal population in Jivti block. The victims of this attack are all Buddhists. The Huke family is the only landless family in the village and work as wage labourers.
The four women who were afflicted with Bhanamati all belong to the Matang community. The attackers are from various communities.
On the face of it there does not seem to be a situation of upper-caste people inflicting violence on Dalits. Sukumar made it a point to inform us that one of the prominent persons of the village Keshav Girmaji who belongs to the Maratha community and is a leader of BJP tried to stop the mob and he too was beaten up. Girmaji’s nephew Pundalik Girmaji is the Sarpanch of the village and according to the police, it was the Sarpanch who had informed them. However, some villagers alleged that the Sarpanch and Keshav Girmaji could have informed the police much earlier.
There also appears to be tension between the Buddhist and Matang communities over the celebration of Jayantis of leaders like Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar, Lokshahir Annabhau Sathe and Lahuji Salve. Unfortunately, these tensions remained unresolved in Wani Khurd.
Not the First Time
This is not the first case of witch-hunt in Jivti block. Jalimshah Kotnake a tribal leader from village Gudsela informed us that a few years back an elderly couple – tribals in that case – were stoned to death by other tribals. This incident had occurred in a village called Sorekasa. In that instance too the couple were accused of performing black magic.
– Paromita Goswami