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(Read on 27th October 1920 )

The belief in witchcraft is deeply rooted in the minds of the Hos, the Oraons and the other aboriginal tribes living on the Chota Nagpore plateau, and also in those of the Santals inhabiting Santālia or the Santal Parganas. The members of these tribes always live in fear of being bewitched by witches. Whenever the cattle belonging to any one of these tribespeople die from any cause which he is unable to make out owing to his ignorance, or whenever his wife and children fall ill of any disease, of which the cause he is unable to understand by reason of his want of knowledge of the elementary principles of sanitary science, he readily jumps to the conclusion that the death of his cattle or the illness of his wife and children is due to the spells wrought by some witch. He, then, begins to think within himself as to what he should do to put a stop to the mysterious death of his cattle, or to bring about the recovery of his wife and children from their attacks of illness. As the result of his savage way of thinking he decides that the best way of bringing about the consummations devoutly wished-for by him would be to kill the offending witch. Having thus made up his mind, he arms himself with an axe or some other lethal weapon, and, then, goes to the house of the supposed malefactor and, then and there, kills her. Sometimes, by reason of an accidental coincidence, the cattle murrain, that has been decimating his eattle, ceases shortly after her death, or his wife and children recover from their illness a little while after the happening of this event. He thereupon hits upon the idea that these devoutly wished-for results must have accrued from the witch's death.

Such cases of witch-murders are of frequent occurrence in Chota Nagpore and Santāliā. I have already given the details

of the case of the Oraon named, Sukha, who, suspecting one Daria Chāmār to be a wizard who had caused the death of his relatives and of his cattle, killed him, believing that he had thereby rid his community of a great source of danger. I have also narrated the gruesome particulars of the case in which a Santal named Binode Manjhi killed a woman whom he suspected of being a witch and who he believed had, by means of her spells brought about the death of his wife.1

The last-mentioned case occurred towards the close of 1911 or in the beginning of 1912. Since then, several other cases of witch-murder have happened in the various districts of Chotā Nagpore and Santalia, all of which have been referred to in the judgment (published below) of Mr. Justice Sultan Ahmad of the Patna High Court in the latest witch-murder case which came up on appeal before him and which forms the subjectmatter of this paper.

The facts of this latest case of witch-murder are as follows:

The wife and child of one Maia, a member of the Ho tribe living in village Lysia in the district of Singbhum in Chotā Nagpore, fell ill of fever. Now, in the same village, lives his uncle Bara Bonj with his wife named Daskir Kui and his two daughters named Tulsi Kui and Machru Kui. Suspecting that the illness of his wife and child had been caused by the spells of Daskir Kui, whom he believed to be a witch, he, in the evening of Wednesday the 5th November 1919, armed himself with an axe and went to the house of his uncle Bara Bonj who was, at that time, absent therefrom. He went to Daskir Kui who was lying in her bed, ill of fever, and said: "you are a witch and are sucking my blood." Against this remark, she protested by saying that the village-priest would bear testimony in her favour. Thereafter he dealt four cuts with his axe in

1 Vide my artiole "Further Notes on Sorcery in Ancient, Mediaval and Modern India" in The Journal of the Anthropological Society of Bombay, Vol. X., pp. 19-20.

her neck and breast. Then taking up a stone, he struck her on the head with it, which killed her. Then he set fire to the hut, whereupon her two daughters escaped through an opening between the walls and the thatch.

Thereafter Maia Ho was arrested and sent up for trial. He was tried by the Sessions Judge of Chaibasa who found him guilty of manslaughter under section 302 of the Indian Penal Code and sentenced him to death. Against this sentence of capital punishment, the accused preferred an appeal to the Patna High Court. This appeal came up for hearing before the Criminal Bench of that Court, which was composed of Justices Sir B. K. Mallik and Mr. Sultan Ahmad. After hearing the arguments of the accused's vakil, Justice Mallik decided that the sentence of death should be confirmed, while Justice Ahmad opined that it should be commuted to one of transportation for life. In view of this difference in the opinions of these two Judges, the case was referred to a third Judge, namely, Mr. Justice P. R. Das of the same Court. He, however, agreed with the opinion of Mr. Justice Sultan Ahmad and commuted the sentence of death to one of transportation for life.

As the judgments of Sir B. K. Mallik and Mr. Sultan Ahmad, JJ., embody some interesting ethnographical information upon the subject of the belief in witchcraft prevailing among the aboriginal tribes living on the Chota Nagpur plateau, I give below the whole texts of the same which have been published in The Searchlight (Bankipore) of Sunday, April 4, 1920.

The following is Mr. Justice Mullick's judgment :

"There is not dispute about the facts. The prisoner belongs to the Ho tribe in Singhbhoom and is about 30 years of age. On Wednesday the 5th of November last he killed Daskir Kui, the wife of his uncle Bara Bonj."

"It is established that the wife and child of the accused were suffering from fever. At about 6 p.m. on the 5th of November, while Bara Bonj was at the house of his neighbours and nephew,

Jharu Pradhan, the prisoner arrived at the house of the deceased Daskir Kui armed with an axe. Daskir Kui was then in bed ill with fever and her daughters Tulsi Kui aged 14 and Machru Kui aged 8, were cooking rice. The prisoner said to the deceased · You are a witch, you are sucking my blood." She protested and said that the village priest would bear witness in her favour. He then gave her 4 cuts in the neck and breast Then he got a stone and struck her on the head with it. He then took fire from the hearth and set fire to the house. The two girls escaped with difficulty through an opening between the walls and the roof."

with the axe.

"While the house was burning the husband of the deceased came to the place and found the accused standing outside the house but he was too afraid to make any attempt to arrest the prisoner. He went in search of the village Sirdar and when he returned with him the prisoner had gone."

"There is suggestion that Bara Bonj came to the spot twice, once while the altercation between the prisoner and the deceased was going on, also again after the house had been set on fire; but this part of the case does not seem to be quite clear, and in my opinion, the fact is that the husband and Jharu Pradhan did not arrive there till the prisoner had killed the deceased and set fire to the house."

"That night at about 12 o'clock the prisoner went to the threshing floor of Paikari Munda of Mouza Khandeva which is about one mile from the prisoner's village Lysia. Paikari was intoxicated and could not be awakened but his servant Nonga gave the prisoner shelter and kept him there till the following morning. Paikari gave him food the following morning and then took him to Lysia from where the prisoner was taken with Bara Bonj to the police station about midnight. The Police Officer recorded the first information of Bara Bonj at 12-30 a.m. and arrived at the place of occurrence before noon. The prisoner was eventually put on his trial before. the Sessions Judge."

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The assessors both found that he was not insane and that he was guilty of murder. Agreeing with them, the Sessions Judge has found the prisoner guilty of an offence under Sec. 302, Indian Penal Code, and sentenced him to death."


On the 8th of November the prisoner made a confession before Mr. Howe, Deputy Magistrate at Chaibassa. He then said that he saw three women dancing under a mango tree, that he took them for witches and ran at them with an axe, that just as Daskir Kui reached her door he struck her with the axe and killed her and that as the other two witches did not come out of their house he set fire to it."

"On the 28th of November he repeated this statement before the committing magistrate and on the 30th of January he confirmed it before the Sessions Judge."


Paikeri Munda states that on the morning of the 6th of November the prisoner told him that he had seen "three females dancing under a mango tree, one being like a dog and the other two like sheep and that all of them had run into the house of Boni." This story as to the women having assumed the shapes of animals was not repeated by the prisoner to any one and, in my opinion, it is a piece of ornamentation on the part of Paikari Munda who, if not a relative, appears to be a close friend."

"There is no reason for believing that the prisoner was under any delusion. The evidence shows that he was in full possession of his faculties and it is difficult to understand how, on coming out of his house, he could have been labouring under any such hallucination as is now pleaded."

"If the prisoner was in fact labouring under any such delusion and killed the deceased thinking that he was killing a dog he would no doubt be entitled to an acquittal. But the facts show beyond all doubt that the prisoner knew that he was killing a human being and also that he was aware of the nature

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