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Hunting with the witches

Welcome to Purulia, India's answer to Jamaica, that land of superstition, voodoo culture and witch-hunting.

Well, maybe here they don't use voodoo dolls. And things aren't really all that bad.

But we are getting pretty close, we sure are, by the look of it.

Last year, 17 cases of witch-hunting were recorded in this tribal-dominated West Bengal district. In the first six months of the current year, the number is already 12.

"We are helpless," hapless district authorities confess, "We have tried our level best, but such attempts are reported only when it is too late."

Most of the incidents, they say, relate to property grabbing. And then, of course, there is plain superstition spurring acts of 'pleasing the gods.'

Last week, 65-year-old widow Sarumukhi Singh was lynched by her relatives. They wanted her property.

"She is a witch," they pronounced, after which they calmly went about preparing for her killing. Two days later when the police arrived at the scene, Saramukhi was history. And the culprits had fled.

Another widow, Jalashweri Majhi of Balarampur, aged 79, was hunted into extinction under similar circumstances. Her body was cut into pieces and thrown into a burning pyre.

The police, this time, was a bit more prompt -- they arrived at the scene within hours and managed to arrest two culprits. Three are now absconding.

"It is not easy to control the problem," District Police Superintendent Niraj Nayan Pandiya said, "You have to tackle the root cause first -- namely, illiteracy."


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