New Delhi: Seven people were murdered and beheaded in Jharkhand’s West Singhbhum district in January. A Special Investigations Team (SIT) had linked the killings to opposition to the Pathalgadi movement – which seeks to preserve and safeguard tribal traditions. It was argued that the people were murdered because of their opposition to the Pathalgadi movement by a pro-Pathalgadi faction in the village.
However, a fact-finding team comprising of activists, writers and journalists has now suggested that there may have been a different reason. The team has found that those killed had not followed the diktats of the Sati pati cult – which nudges people to boycott government schemes and surrender government issues documents. The cult originated in Gujarat and has been active in Jharkhand for the past year.
The fact-finding team, which was put together collectively by Jharkhand Janadhikar Mahasabha and National Alliance of People’s Movement (NAPM), found in its visits and conversations, that about half of the village was following the sati pati cult, while the rest were not. Those who were killed belonged to the section of the village which did not surrender its government-issued documents as the sati pati cult had suggested.
James Budh, one of those killed, had been vocal about his opposition to the cult and had objected to giving up the benefits of government schemes. On January 16, James and some armed members of the People’s Liberation Front of India (PLFI) – a Maoist splinter group – had attacked the houses of some of the followers of the sati pati cult.
Then, on January 19, members of the sati pati cult invited James and his accomplices to a meeting. According to the fact-finding team, this is what transpired at the meeting, “from the testimonies of sati pati supporters and family members of the victims, it emerged that the seven people were beaten to death in the meeting and then beheaded.”
The fact-finding team conceded that ‘several questions remain unanswered’ about the killings. But, it is certain that two factions in the village were pro-sati pati cult and anti-sati pati cult contrary to the narrative by the administration which has argued that the killings were the result of a contestation between supporters and detractors of the Pathalgadi movement.