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Kalabil witch-hunting: Three get lifers, 14 freed

SILCHAR, July 9: The very thought of Kalabil, a nondescript village, close to the tea garden of Narainpur, under Banskandi police station, 20 km from here, sends shivers down the spine. The village was a witness to a case reminiscent of medieval age barbarism that shook the entire civilized world. It brought to the fore the prevalence of witch-hunting, wizardly and weird thoughts and ideas overshadowed by superstition. Under the frenzied grip of some unknown and hidden deity, the 80 families of Kalabil joined together to participate in the beating and battering of a 55 year old man identified as Jahar Lal Mura to sacrifice him and propitiate the deity whom they worship as ‘Sarva Mangala Kali’.
On the basis of preliminary investigation, the police arrested 17 persons, 3 of them female and 2 priests, who included Sukumar Mura, Umesh Mura, Manu Mura, Ranjit Tantubai, Rabaroshan Tantubai, Nipen Mura, Bimal Tantubai, Rajesh Mura, Kunjabati Mura, Rita Mura, and Radharani Tantubai, Adhir Mura and Khatan Mura, Paresh Mura, Babul Mura, Chabi Lal Mura and Bikash Tantubai were taken into custody. There was confusion as to who actually motivated these persons into perpetrating this heinous crime. Sukumar Mura is believed to be the one behind barbaric and inhuman act. Skeletons then rolled out of the cupboard as the entire diabolical plot was uncovered. The preliminary finding of the police was that Jahar Lal was badly beaten and battered with sharp weapons like tridents and all sorts of projectiles.
The case filed in the Court of Chief Judicial Magistrate in 2013 which was later committed to the Court of Additional District and Session Judge. After long 2 years of examination and cross-examination of the accused arrested by police and after hearing both the complainants and the defence, the judgement was delivered recently. In his 24 page judgement, Tridib Kumar Bhattacharjee, Additional District and Session Judge, sentenced Sukumar Mura (26), Chabilal Mura (34) and Rajesh Mura (25), the 3 main accused, to rigorous life imprisonment under different sections of 302/34, 201/34 and 447/34 of IPC which they would undergo concurrently. 14 others including 3 women accused were set free due to lack of evidence.
It was the first of its kind ‘witch-hunting’ case in Silchar Court. The motive behind the killing has been attributed to blind faith ensuing in the sacrifice of a man for the overall welfare and wellbeing of the village and its inhabitants. After this revelation, it was no longer a mystery as to why Jahar Lal Mura, the unfortunate victim, was targetted.
Though he was buried in an isolated place after the killing, the secret could not be kept as it was a community affair. The information reached the police whose personnel immediately swung into action. It was on the evening of the June 6, 2013 that the police personnel of Banskandi and Lakhipur started the operation after identifying the spot of the burial. However, matters failed to proceed due to stiff opposition and resistance from the villagers. In fact, the entire village of Kalabil was united to foil the operation.
The following day, the police force drawn from different police stations and assisted by CRPF in large numbers again started the operation after surrounding the village from all sides. But, as attempts were being made by the joint team of police and CRPF to exhume the body, a crowd of men and women managed to assemble and descended down from a tilla and moved towards the force again to confront and resist it. But, as directed by the magistrate Ruth Lienthang who was accompanying the force, lathi-charge was resorted to by the police which kept the crowd at bay and in disarray. Ultimately, the dead body of Jahar Lal Mura was exhumed
The question that arises here is - Why was Jahar Lal Mura sacrificed so mercilessly? The villagers in unison targeted him as ‘an evil force’ because of whom nothing good could be done or achieved for the village. This became a sort of firm belief in the minds of the villagers. Some of them claimed that their hidden deity had appeared in their dream and asked them to kill Jahar Lal and offer him as a sacrifice before her. She in turn would bless the village and its people with peace and prosperity and fulfill their wishes. It was this driving force that led the villagers to kill Jahar Lal on that fateful day around mid noon.
Ruth Lienthang, Circle Officer of Lakhipur sub division, who led the force to exhume the body said, “It was something paranoid and unimaginable in this age of science and technology. When the accused were arrested, they were chanting in the name of their deity and believed the deity had deserted them.” This came out from all their yelling and shouting, she added. It was the son of Jahar Lal, a tea garden worker, Chuni Lal Mura, who mustered the courage to inform the police and file a FIR against all the accused in Banskandi police station vide case no. 151/2013 u/s 147/148/149/447/302/201. The police, as Ruth Lienthang said, was first informed of the incident by the GP president of Narainpur, Jagdish Bania.
After the accused persons were produced before the CJM Court, they were remanded to jail where they were subjected to further interrogation and investigation by the police. The village of Kalabil inhabited by tea tribe people as well as Santhals continues to languish in darkness with jungles all around sans connectivity, electricity and other basic facilities. Sarva Shiksha Mission is yet to make any impact in this remote and isolated village. It is this isolation and illiteracy that is behind the ignorance and blind faith of the people.
Nabarun Bhattacharjee, SDO (Civil) of Lakhipur sub division, started recording the statements of witnesses of the gruesome witch-hunting case of Kalabil. The hearing started in his office chamber at Lakhipur from June 17, 2013. According to information from the sub divisional headquarters, the investigation was taken up on the order of the then Deputy Commissioner of Cachar, Gokul Mohan Hazarika.
In fact, even before the DC ordered for a thorough probe into the ghastly incident, the SDO in coordination with the investigation officer of Banskandi police station, Abdul Bashit, had recorded the statements of a number of witnesses. The investigation so far conducted brought out the hard fact that it was deep and blind faith in some hidden deity that motivated all the villagers of Kalabil to target Jahar Lal Mura in an attempt to free the village from the evil spirit. The investigation officer, Nabarun Bhattacharjee, said the investigation was almost complete and the report would be submitted to the Deputy Commissioner of Cachar. After all the brutality and barbarism, the civil society was of the view that particular focus of the administration should now be on this village of Kalabil in order to cover it under a total literacy programme with accent on their socio-economic uplift with a view to liberating them from the superstitions and belief in witchcraft.the dragnet of police. (Source:SentinelAssam)

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