PATNA, India - Neepudi and her five children, none older than 10, were axed to death in Mandwa village of Palamau district, in eastern India's Bihar state.
They were killed by Mohar Shah who accused Neepudi of being a witch and responsible for the death of his daughter-in-law. The incident took place in September 1997. Later it transpired that Shah had his eye on the land she owned and succeeded in his plan to wipe out the entire family because she was a woman
Calcutta-based sociologist Dr Pashupati Halder, an authority on tribal practices, says ojhas who people believe are possessed with divine power are common in the tribal belts of eastern India.
Ojhas brand women as witches in exchange for money or other gifts from the powerful and vested interests in the village. Their claim is never challenged. Often the village headman is also part of the conspiracy, and gives his stamp of approval.
Village ojhas live luxurious lives, and they have confessed that their primary interest is to earn money for which they use their power to exorcize evil spirits.
There are also occasions when their own interest comes first. In one such incident, Malati had to face the wrath of an ojha simply because she refused to have sex with him. She was set upon by the ojha and his henchmen who raped and then killed her in a village in Lohardaga.