A yellow tape with the words "crime scene" had cordoned off a patch of ground where a pile of ashes were still smouldering in the crematorium at the Adarashpally village. The relatives of Gyara Lakshmi, a 50-year-old woman who died on Tuesday at the Osmania hospital in Hyderabad were performing her last rites. A few feet away, the Cyberabad police stood watching the last rites as this is the crime scene where Boini Anjaneyulu, a 26-year-old auto driver from the village had been killed. The young man was beaten and pushed into Lakshmi's pyre by a mob on Wednesday night.
Trouble began in the Adrashpally village, just 40 km away from Hyderabad, on Wednesday night, a few hours after Lakshmi was cremated. Lakshmi who had been unwell for a few years finally succumbed to her illness and was cremated around 6.00 pm.
Almost two and a half hours later, Anjaneyulu's brother Ganesh heard a rumour that his younger brother too had been burnt along with Lakshmi. When the family rushed to the pyre, all they found was one pair of Ganesh’s chappal that Anjanayelu had used that night.
According to the police, a few of Lakshmi’s relatives believed that she had died due to the ill effects of black magic. They anticipated that the ‘sorcerer’ would come near the pyre to do some rituals and had waited in the shadows. After a few hours, when they saw Anjaneyulu near a tank in the graveyard, they caught hold of him. These men then called others in the village and the mob grew in size. Armed with sticks, axe and stones, they attacked the young man and then threw him into the pyre. According to the police, Anjaneyulu was still alive when he was thrown into the fire.
After ensuring that the man had burnt to death, one of the accused informed the same over phone to the husband of the village sarpanch.
Lakshmi’s brother Balaiyah was at the crematorium on Thursday and insisted that Anjaneyulu had practised black magic. "We performed my sister’s funeral and left the place. Balram, a relative and another person went back to the funeral pyre to check if it was still burning. This is when they found Anjaneyulu naked and circling the funeral chanting mantras. He was wearing his elder brother’s chappals (suggesting that the victim wearing his brother's sandals was related to black magic). The two men turned back and returned with everyone in the village.”
Balaiayah refused to reveal what happened afterwards.
However, another relative pitched in and said, “The whole village saw what happened here but no one is going to speak. How could he disrespect the grave by doing black magic?” asks this relative.
These lines were repeated by many in the village. Almost all of those TNM spoke to said black magic existed and most claimed to know that Anjaneyulu was a black magic practitioner. “We sometimes find him and people from his family at odd places on full moon nights,” one villager said.
Though the police and Balaiyah said that the whole village had turned up at the crematorium, every single villager TNM spoke to claimed they hadn't seen anything. "I did not see anything", "I don't know these people," were the most common answers. One person said, "His father was a black magician so were his forefathers," Yet another asked, "What else was he doing at the graveyard at 8 pm?"
Anjaneyulu's residence is the first house as one enters the village that is divided by a road. The road incidentally divides the backward caste and the scheduled caste settlements in this village. Anjaneyulu and his family belong to the Mutharasi (Mudhuraj) caste listed as backward caste, while Lakshmi and her family (including the accused) are from the Madiga caste, a scheduled caste.
Ganesh, Anjaneyulu’s elder brother was devastated. He says other villagers have always accused his family of performing black magic. "Those who say we are black magicians just don't know us, they're saying whatever they can and want," says an angry Ganesh.
Outside the family residence, Anjaneyulu share auto stood idle. "He would be driving his auto the whole day and even at night. He normally goes to the crematorium to attend nature’s call. Why did they kill him for that?”, Ganesh asked.
The family has a toilet attached to their modest residence but is used mostly by the women. The men relieve themselves in the fields, explained Ganesh. Anjaneyulu could access the crematorium using a shortcut that TNM observed would reduce his otherwise 1-kilometre trek, down by more than half.
But the villagers are adamant in their belief that Anjaneyulu had no good intentions. “He was naked and why should he travel one km to relieve himself?” Lakshmi’s relative asked.
For the Balanagar police, it is not going to be an easy task to convince the villagers otherwise. PV Padmaja, the Deputy Commissioner of Police, has appealed to the public to not believe in such superstitions. “There is no sorcery in society and it is requested that the public should not take the law into their hands. If they notice any such kind of issues, they are requested to inform the local police and revenue authorities immediately,” she said in a statement.
Meanwhile, the police have arrested Lakshmi’s brother-in-law Gyara Balram and three others- Gyara Kistaiah, Bandala Sriramulu and Gyara Narsimha- and charged them for murder and rioting.