Three of family hacked to death on suspicion of witchcraft

Shillong, Aug 17 (IANS) Three members of a family were hacked to death allegedly for practicing witchcraft in a village in Meghalaya's East Khasi Hills district, police said Saturday.

The incident occurred at Smit village late Friday night, when an unruly mob went on a rampage attacking the three people who were suspected of having sacrificed villagers to appease a god.

Yesly Mawthoh, his son D. Nongdhar, and brother Besly Mawthoh were brutally murdered by the mob after they were accused of having dumped the 24-year-old Lam Nongrum in Umiew river Aug 14, with severe injuries.

Nongrum, who is recovering from his injuries at Nazareth Hospital, reportedly named Yesly and Besly (who are also Nongrum's paternal uncles) as the people who dumped him in the river.

Four police personnel, including the officer-in-charge of Madanriting police station, C.M. Ranee, were also injured in the mob frenzy after irate villagers pelted stones to prevent policemen from extricating the bodies of the three victims.

"It was a dastardly crime and the people involved in instigating the mob will not be spared," Mariahom Kharkrang, district police chief of East Khasi Hills, told IANS.

He said the police were forced to fire tear gas shells to disperse the mob before extricating the bodies.

East Khasi Hills district magistrate Sanjay K. Goyal said a magisterial inquiry headed by Additional District Magistrate D.M. Wallang will probe the events leading to the murders.

"It was an unfortunate incident in our village. We (village headmen) have tried to calm the villagers and get them to spare the trio, but no one listened to us. Even the policemen who came to tackle the situation could not save them," Kynsai Manik Syiem, Sordar (village chief of Smit Pyllun), said.

Syiem said the elders of the seven villages in the area had met Saturday morning and decided to convene another village meeting to find out the exact cause of the murders.

Black magic, witchcraft and superstitious beliefs have been part of tribal customs in the northeastern states.

In Meghalaya, there is the myth of "menshohnoh" (cut-throats), who worship a supernatural being called U Thlen (a huge serpent that one can propitiate with human sacrifice). The sacrifice is made in the hope of acquiring wealth. The myth is quite commonly retold in the Khasi-Jaintia Hills

Many tribal communities practice indigenous faiths, and resort to mythical beliefs and related rituals for treating ailments too.

On Aug 3, the National Human Rights Commission took suo motu cognisance of a media report and issued notices to the Meghalaya government to file a report on the incident of a man assaulted and locked up in Sohryngkham village. The man was also forced to eat dog excreta by relatives, who accused him of witchcraft.

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