In Assam, a rising trend of murders on allegations of witchcraft

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Kokrajhar:  Just a day after eminent rationalist Narendra Dabholkar was shot dead in Pune last month, a killing that ironically forced the Maharashtra government to pass the long-pending anti-superstition ordinance, two people were killed in a remote village in Assam's Kokrajhar district, allegedly by villagers who suspected them of practicing witchcraft.

On the night of August 21, Sukhushree and Biren Basumatary were hacked to death; they were dragged out of their house and attacked by around 15 men armed with axes and spears. Villagers say allegations of witchcraft against the couple first surfaced at a local gathering six years ago, and since then accusations against them never stopped.

The couple's daughter-in-law, Rimola, was present during the time of the murder.

"Their (the attackers') faces were covered. They were shouting something and were carrying trishuls. They killed them right before my eyes," said a terrified Rimola.

The police say eight men have been arrested so far and charged with murder.

Surjit Singh Panesar, Additional Superintendent of Police at Kokrajhar, says, "When the killings happened, all the people, who did it, were drunk. They spread stories about the couple in the evening and then murdered them."

According to the Assam government, about 105 cases of 'witch-hunting' have been reported across the state from 2006 to 2012, with the highest number, 29, in 2011. Kokrajhar alone has accounted for 20 of these cases.

Activists point out that the last two decades have seen a rise in such killings across Assam, and very few have survived these accusations.

After the August killings, the Assam government has said it will enact a new law against witch hunting. A help line will also be opened - measures that have perhaps taken too long and cost many lives in Assam.

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