Contrary to national media reports about the seven murders in West Singhbhum, Jharkhand, allegedly by the supporters of Pathalgadi movement, the gruesome killings have their origins in a rivalry between the two families. They were reportedly murdered on January 19, but it was found out only two days ago.
The massacre of the seven persons in Burugulikera, identified as James Budh (30), Etwa Budh (27), Lomba Budh (25), Koje Topno (23), Nirmal Budh (25), Jabra Budh (22), and Bobas Lomga (25) was a result of village conflict, said the police. The village falls under Gudri police station, which is at least 75 km from the district headquarter Chaibasa.
“The murders cannot be linked to Pathalgadi movement, but an incident of rivalry between two families – the current village head and his family was murdered by the earlier village head’s family,” said Murari Lal Meena, ADG-Operations.
The Pathalgadi movement is prevalent in the Burugulikera village, but these seven were murdered due to opposition between themselves. Pathalgadi, a custom to erect stone plaques amongst tribals, resurrected in 2017 in Khunti when villagers began to erect plaques with their rights engraved on it.
The previous Raghubar Das-led BJP government had slapped thousands of sedition cases on the supporters of the movement. However, soon after the new Chief Minister Hemant Soren was sworn in, he quashed all of these cases.
The prime accused in the case is former mukhiya Mukta Horo and her husband, Ranshi Budh. However, it must also be mentioned that Ranshi Budh supported Pathalgadi movement, but the murdered James Budh was the current village mukhiya and he was not in favour of Ranshi Budh’s form of Pathalgadi.
On January 16, a meeting was called in the village by the former mukhiya, which was opposed by James Budh and his supporters. To retaliate against the meeting, James Budh’s supporters vandalised five house and also beat up Mukta Horo’s family members.
“After vandalising the homes, a meeting was called to discuss the incident. Several of those who had vandalised Mukta Horo’s house did not turn up for the meeting. This enraged Ranshi Budh, who beat up seven and beheaded them in the neighbouring forest,” said Indrajit Mahato, Chaibasa Superintendent of Police.
A day after the decapitated bodies were discovered, Burugulikera village appeared divided over the incident. According to the villagers, James Budh wanted to ensure that villagers had access to subsidised ration, government benefits and additionally wanted to enrol young children in schools.
“However, Ranshi Budh, who is a part of an ideology called ‘Kutumbh family’, which has its roots in Gujarat. Ranshi Budh, who while being in favour of the Pathalgadi movement, was against villagers getting aid from the government or any identification cards or even participating in the voting exercise. The followers of this ideology state that they are a government unto themselves” explained an activist Aloka.
In other regions of Jharkhand, where Pathalgadi is prevalent, it is not as contentious as it is in this region. In this region, a section of the Pathalgadi supporters are against any government assistance, unlike in areas like Khunti, where Pathalgadi supporters have voter IDs and other government documents.