Fandi Sardar has been recuperating from his wounds at Burdwan Medical College and Hospital, around hundred kilometres from Kolkata. His physical injuries will heal within a few days but his mental scars would remain forever with him.
The 73-year-old had all his fingers chopped off by his younger son, Harishchandra Sardar, 21, under the direction of the kangaroo court in his village who accused Fandi of practising witchcraft.
The horrific incident took place on the morning of 9 October in Radhakrishnapur village of Birbhum district, another 70 kilometers from Burdwan.
The septuagenarian, now lying on a hospital bed, is too traumatised to speak and starts crying when asked to reveal the details of the gut-wrenching incident, “I have done nothing. I am innocent. They told my son to chop off all my ten fingers without any fault of mine,” he says as his voice cracks due to sobbing.
A fear of the unknown looms large on every face in Radhakrishnapur where most of the male members have fled fearing crackdown from the cops.
A snaky muddy road surrounded by the paddy fields leads to his (Fandi’s) thatched house. His family is too scared to step outside, fearing assault by the villagers who have ostracised them. Cops that were deployed for their safety are nowhere to be seen. Fandi’s daughter-in-law Asha Sardar musters courage to speak about the incident.
She concedes that Fandi is a worshiper of Goddess Kali but had never practiced any witchcraft, “We do not have any idol of the Goddess in the house. He usually sat on the floor outside in the courtyard and offered prayers to the deity. I never found anything suspicious and nothing like black magic,” she says while standing outside her hut made of mud.
Asha says, that it all began a few days ago when a teenage girl, Sumi Sardar – who lives only a stone’s throw away from their house – accused Fandi of performing black magic on her.
"The girl alleged that she fell off and became unconscious whenever she crossed our house while going to school. She also claimed that she’d have hallucinations at night. She informed her parents who then told other villagers about it." - Asha Sardar, daughter-in-law of Fandi Sardar
The villagers then contacted a local exorcist, Uttam Debanshi, who ‘confirmed’ that Fandi was indeed involved in the occult practises and summoned the family to a local temple in the village on 8 October, a day before the incident. The villagers alleged that other women in the village had also become ill because of his (Fandi’s) black magic.
“The salishi sabha (kangaroo court) then gave a judgment at the behest of the exorcist to kill my father-in-law in order to save the village from his evil practise. We were too petrified. We pleaded before them to spare his life. The salishi sabha then told Harishchandra (Fandi’s younger son) to chop off all his father’s fingers or they will kill the entire family,” said Ruma Sardar (19), their relative, who also lives in the same compound.
Fandi was dragged from the temple to his house and was beaten up mercilessly by the villagers, “The exorcist had also claimed the existence of an earthen pot hidden under a tulsi (holy basil) plant in the courtyard of our house where the witchcraft was being practised but nothing was found when the place was dug up by the villagers in the late hours of October 8,” she says. Uttam then said that fingers were to be chopped in the courtyard as part of the rituals to free the village from his curse.
"Harishchandra then chopped off all the fingers of his father with the butcher’s knife. It was a sheer horror unleashed in front of our eyes. The whole village stood as a mute spectator of our pleas to spare him. But they didn’t listen. As soon as the fingers were amputated, one of our relatives collected them in a plastic bag and threw it in the river flowing nearby. " - Asha Sardar, daughter-in-law of Fandi Sardar
She adds that her father-in-law was left reeling and squirming in pain for five-six hours as Uttam had warned them not to take him to a hospital for treatment. The villagers left the spot one-by-one. It was only after their relatives arrived from other areas that Fandi Sardar was shifted to a hospital.
“We couldn’t touch him out of the fear of being attacked by the villagers,” says Asha while pointing to the spot where the fingers were removed.
Sumi Sardar, whose complaint had triggered anger among the villagers now accuses Harishchandra of chopping his father’s fingers, “We have done nothing. A son has removed his father’s fingers and now we are to be blamed for it.”
Doctors say that Fandi is stable and would be discharged soon, “His fingers were already amputated when he was brought here. He also had injuries on his face and chest. We have done all the necessary treatment and he would be discharged in a few days,” said Dr Amitava Saha, deputy medial superintendent, Burdwan Medical College and Hospital.
Cops have arrested seven persons including Harishchandra and the exorcist, in connection with the case “We have arrested seven accused persons and booked them in relevant sections of Indian Penal Code (IPC). Most of the culprits are absconding after the incident. A search has been on to nab them,” said a senior police official requesting anonymity.
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