Bhubaneswar: The brutal murder of a teenager in the remote Kenduguda village of Malkangiri has brought to fore Odisha’s sometimes fatal belief in witchcraft.
The 15-year-old boy from the tribal hamlet Kenduguda in Malkangiri district was taken from his home on the night of June 4 and killed by men of his own village. Kenduguda had seen 16 deaths in the past three months, the cause of which has yet to be diagnosed.
The boy’s family filed an FIR on the next day, which prompted a quick investigation by the local police.
On June 5, six people were arrested by the police. They confessed to killing the boy on the suspicion of ‘witchcraft’, holding him responsible for the deaths in their village, according to Malkangiri SP Rishikesh Dnyandeo Khilari.
“The body, exhumed on Saturday in the presence of a magistrate, had an injury on the neck, likely to have been caused by a sharp weapon and throttling,” police sources said, dismissing media reports of the body being chopped into pieces.
The fact that the Class VII student belonged to a family that had recently converted to Christianity is being raised as a possible reason for the murder, according to a few local Christian community leaders. The boy’s family is one of three homes that now follow Christianity in a hamlet of about 14 Koya homes.
District collector Manish Agarwal said the murder is being investigated, but added that the preliminary findings do not suggest any communal angle.
The police had formed a ‘peace committee’ in the village to make sure these rumours were quashed and didn’t cause any disharmony in the area. The committee has also been tasked with explaining to the villagers that the recent deaths there had nothing to do with ‘witchcraft’. The cause of the deaths is being investigated by a team of doctors, the villagers have been informed.
Kenduguda has been gripped by an undiagnosed problem that has led to the death of more than 16 people in the last three months. The victims have reportedly complained of respiratory problems and bloated stomachs before succumbing to a disease the district medical team is yet to identify. Collector Agarwal said the district team had spent the last week in the village and if required, they might request a medical team from Bhubaneswar to visit.
The fact that this illness has only afflicted Kenduguda and not any neighbouring village has also led the local administration to suspect water contamination. Tests of water samples have been sent to Bhubaneswar and are awaited.