PATNA: In the second incident of its kind in a week, an elderly couple in Jharkhand was burnt to death on suspicion of practicing witchcraft late on Wednesday night, bringing to focus how large parts of the tribal-dominated state still remains in the grip of superstitions.
Police recovered the half-burnt bodies of Lohra Singh (70) and his wife Chhorati Devi (62) in a paddy field in Tembra Ganjutoli village under Bano police station area in the southern Simdega district on Thursday. Preliminary investigations confirmed that the couple, residents of the same village, were first beaten up and burnt to death after the perpetrators held them for the recent death of a child in the village due to sickness.
The accused, who fled the village minutes before the cops reached, also set the couple’s house on fire, said a police officer. “The victims’ bodies bore marks of grave physical injuries apparently caused by severe thrashing. They were set afire with the help of paddy hay kept in the field. The accused, two of whom have been identified as Shankar Singh and Vijay Singh, are absconding,” said an official of Bano police station.
“It is being ascertained if the elderly couple was burnt alive or first killed and then set afire in an effort to suppress evidence of the murder. It will be known after the postmortem report comes in. Police are conducting raids to nab the accused, which apparently comprised some women,” said sub-divisional police officer (SDPO) Amit Singh.
In Khunti district of the state, an elderly woman was similarly burnt to death on December 8 after being suspected of practicing witchcraft and bringing unfavourable circumstances to her neighbours.
According to official data made available by Jharkhand police, 47 people were killed in the state in 2015 for allegedly practicing witchcraft. Despite efforts by the Raghubar Das-led government to spread awareness against superstitious practices such as witchcraft, deaths and injuries arising out of them have hardly come under check.
“All this happens due to low levels of literacy and lack of awareness in remote pockets of the state. The government will launch another bout of statewide awareness drive against witchcraft soon,” said Louis Marandi, Jharkhand’s minister for social welfare.