|A news photo showing a village elder showing the spot where Jacinta and the four other women were murdered|
Mandar in Ranchi district (Jharkhand State, India) is particularly close to my heart. It was there, at the Holy Family Hospital, aged 16 where I first came under the surgeon’s knife. Today, Mandar haunts me in a different way. Fifty five year Jacinta Toppo, a Catholic woman, was one of five unfortunate women who met a horrible, savage death, when a mob, among whom were some of her own relatives, declared her a witch and stoned and bludgeoned her to death.
This woman, stoned as a ‘witch’ by a mob Mandar in the dark hours of Saturday morning, was a progressive matriculate who donated 3 cottahs in 2009 to set up a school in her village. The four others were Ratia Oraon (70), Madni Oraon (55), Etwaria Oraon (50) and Tetri Oraon (35).
Jacinta, the only tribal Christian among the victims, was educated and known for her good works. Among her children, a son is in the army (Bihar battalion), a daughter a nurse. Besides donating land for the village primary upgraded school, Jacinta led a campaign against alcoholism. With some others, she campaigned for power supply in the village, which it finally got six months ago. Four months ago, Jacinta got a tube well installed.
A frenzied mob of 250 villagers, stripped them, lynched them and pelted stones on their bleeding bodies around 1am on Saturday. And this on the instigation of another woman an ‘ojhain’ (a female ojha or witch doctor) named Aichin in Jhakhra Tola, another cluster blamed them for causing the death of village boy Bipin Khalkho, a Class VI student.
And yet, at among the 27 persons arrested for the grisly killings, two youths Xavier, 22, and Moses (locally called Mojes), 26, were Christians, Xavier a Catholic college student and related to Jacinta. Xavier, despite his college education, was among those who believed that women of his village practised black magic to kill a child.
Though Bipin was ill for some time, exhibiting symptoms of jaundice and typhoid, his family did not take him to a hospital till it was too late, relying on witch doctors, local media reports say. Taken to missionary-run Holy Family Hospital in Mandar on July 29, Bipin died on August 2 morning, a nurse saying his liver was damaged beyond repair.
Just last year, a young friend of mine, David Tirkey, died of malaria and jaundice based complications in a village near Torpa in Ranchi, in somewhat similar circumstances. The death of this young man, well liked by the community in his village and among the Adivasi and Catholic community on Bodh Gaya came as a cruel shock. But imagine the greater shock to find that all his family, brothers and sisters came back to Bodh Gaya from the funeral with totems and charms around their necks. They were told, apparently by some ‘ Christian’ ojhas that another family in the village had cast spells on them. The younger brother Rajesh, himself in college, clung on to the charms for dear life, and would not listen to reason.
The Catholic priests in Bodh Gaya, Torpa, and in other tribal areas for that matter are more concerned with social issues and human rights, than addressing these fundamental issues of blind superstition and primitive fear. But on the other hand, can they really rein in the ‘Charismatics’ and the other fringe religious who actually see manifestations of ‘evil’ in everything they don’t agree with? Seems like a good formula for stirring up some good 'witch hunting' in the jungles, no?
I still haven’t seen a statement from the Cardinal or the Archbishop, or any officials of the Church in Ranchi on this issue. Correct me if somebody has actually made a statement to the press, and mentioned this in the pulpits over this Sunday!