A new sacrificial murder involving a four-year-old girl who was beheaded and offered as human sacrifice has highlighted the fact that witchcraft in India claims hundreds of lives every year.
The latest case—which took place in the world-famous tea-producing region of Assam—involved a “tantrik” sacrificing the girl after being asked to provide magical help in finding a lost cell phone.
According to the Indian Express newspaper, the girl’s body was recovered from a forest near her home in Ratanpur tea estate in the Charaideo district of upper Assam. Her severed head and arms were found nearby.
The girl had been “tortured to retrieve the lost cell phone” of a local villager, named as Hanuman Bhumij. The lost cell phone belonged to Bhumij’s 14-year-old daughter.
Bhumij and another suspect Ariful Ali, identified as the ‘tantrik’ assistant, have been arrested, but the main accused, two men named as Abdul Jalil and Gabbar Singh, are still in hiding.
The New Indian Express newspaper revealed that the sacrifice had taken place to “appease [a local] god in order that one of them could find the mobile phone his daughter had lost.”
Police confirmed that a “sorcerer” visited Bhumij’s house to perform a ritual known as a “puja.”
The New Indian Express quoted Charaideo superintendent of police Mohneesh Mishra as saying that “We learnt that a sorcerer had come to the village to retrieve the lost mobile phone. But by the time we received a complaint from the girl’s family about her abduction, he had fled. We are looking for him and the other person, who is Ali’s brother. We will nab them soon.”
The Telegraph of India added that a “group of youths” had later attacked Bhumij’s neighbors for “not keeping an eye on what was happening in Bhumij’s house.”
The newspaper added that human rights activist Dibyajyoti Saikia said “incidents like this will continue to happen in Assam unless people are made aware on a mass scale that human sacrifice cannot cure a person of all ills or that a person is responsible for ailments and deaths occurring in a village.”
“People will go on believing tantriks and bez (quack) unless ignorance is dispelled. Anti-witchcraft learning should be part of the school curriculum and a strong anti-witchcraft bill, which had been passed by the cabinet on August 13 last year, should be ratified into an act and implemented immediately,” he said.
In 2006, media reports revealed that at least 28 confirmed human sacrifices had taken place in western Uttar Pradesh in a four month period. One of the incidents involved a woman who was having nightmares, the report said.
Acting on the advice of a “holy man,” the woman and two men abducted a 3-year-old boy, and cut off his nose, ears, and hands, after covering him in ghee and sandalwood. They left his bleeding body in front of an image of the god Kali.
The Hindustan Times reported in June this year of a 55-year-old man in a rural village in Jharkhand, a state in eastern India, who was beheaded in a ritual sacrifice “meant to bring about a better harvest and more timely rains.”
The Washington Post reported in 2014 on the widespread nature of the savagery: “In places where superstition and vigilantism overlap and small rumors can turn deadly, nearly 2,100 people accused of witchcraft have been killed between 2000 and 2012.”
New Delhi-based Partners for Law in Development said in a 2012 report that this figure was just the “proverbial tip of a very deep iceberg,” because “available data hides much of the reality of a problem that is deeply ingrained in society. It is only the most gruesome cases that are reported—most cases of witch-hunting go unreported and unrecorded.”