Corpses, Severed Heads, Black Magic
Chittorgarh investigation provides a peep into a nation wide network of skull stealers from muslim graveyards that not just feeds tantric rituals, but also provide reasons for communal conflagration
Abeer Kapoor Delhi
As he sat at his desk in the decrepit Chittorgarh district police headquarters, constable Mukesh Chaudhary was reminiscing about the past year. The month of June had arrived and the prospects of a promotion hung in the air. The year gone by had been high octane and extremely rewarding on the professional front. After solving two difficult and sensitive cases he had become a local celebrity of sorts. He had shot into the limelight when a case he had solved led to a potential communal riot being defused.
Nimbahera is a town in Chittorgarh district, which is known for its blue coloured limestone – the Nimbahera stone. This urban centre where a lot of cement manufacturers are located was on the edge in June 2015. The severed head of a calf had been found dumped in the compound of the Kalika Mata Mandir. The air was rife with rumours and the incident was seen to be communally motivated. A visceral tension had gripped the entire district. A holy site had been defiled and the perpetrators still seemed at large. It was Chaudhary who had solved the case swiftly and restored normalcy in a communally charged town. On June 2, 2016, Chaudhary would again be called upon to save the day and the dead.
On the sultry morning of May 12, after observing the morning namaaz, the relatives of the recently deceased Mohammed Salim Ansari proceeded on foot towards the qabristan in Begun, a bucolic town in Chittorgarh district of Rajasthan. On most days, the town is a quiet, inconspicuous dot on the map where nothing ever really happens. This day was to be different. When members of Salim’s extended family reached his grave to recite the traditional vidais (prayers for the dead) they were horrified to find that his grave had been dug up. Someone had methodically decapitated his corpse and left with the skull. Salim’s corpse looked like it had been guillotined.
Mehboob Ali, the head of the committee that maintains the qabristan, was leaving the mosque after the morning prayers when his phone began ringing incessantly. Recalling the events of the morning, he said, “I was alarmed at what may have happened and made my way to the cemetery immediately.” On arriving there, he was greeted by the macabre sight of seven graves that had been dug up and completely desecrated. The white linen cloth in which the bodies were wrapped had been torn to shreds. Closer inspection revealed a pattern. According to Ali, “They were looking for something specific, and had approached all the bodies from the head. They cut off the head and left with it, we couldn’t find it anywhere in the vicinity.”
'When members of Salim’s extended family reached his grave to recite the traditional vidais (prayers for the dead) they were horrified to find that his grave had been dug up. Someone had methodically decapitated his corpse and left with the skull. Salim’s corpse looked like it had been guillotined'
Troubled by what he had found, he hurriedly called the other members of the committee who were responsible for the maintenance of the cemetery, and sought to find answers. They called the local station house officer (SHO), Bhawani Singh, and filed a first information report (FIR). The misdeed was registered, and a thorough investigation of the desecration of the graves was promised by the police.
Commenting on the case, Singh said, “We registered an FIR and began the investigation in earnest. From the very beginning we suspected it was a case of tantricism. Since the cemetery is a place that people don’t frequent at night, we suspected it to be the work of either a a mad man or a tantrik.” The police began approaching the case by focusing on the usual suspects: closely looking at those who were known to blindly believe in black magic, tantricism and superstition. Local newspapers joined in. Some reported that the grave robberies were communally motivated while some claimed that this was a case of black magic. The conflicting reports added to the prevailing fear which had gripped the community. Meanwhile, Ali and the other members of the committee went back, replaced the gravestones, re-buried the bodies and waited. This was not to be the end of the matter. The grave robbers of Begun had just started.
Six days later, on May 18, the residents of the village of Nandwai, which lies 20 km from Begun, woke up to a grisly sight. A severed, decomposed head was discovered near the main road that shared a boundary wall with the qabristan. “They must have gotten startled by something when they were leaving. Perhaps that’s why they left the skull behind,” speculated Ali. Here again, several graves had been dug open. Nandwai is home to 40 Muslim families. The incident caused much consternation and discomfiture in the small community. Aijaz Khan, who manages the qabristan in Nandwai, promptly lodged a complaint with the local police station in Parsoli. Some days later, a similar attempt at a grave robbery occurred in Parsoli. All the three incidents happened on Wednesday nights, indicating a clear pattern. Fear and insecurity had gripped the Muslims living in the area. The safety of the afterlife was questioned.
The outrage and anger against these incidents reached fever pitch when, on June 2, the grave of Saqoor Khan Pathan was violated in a most gruesome manner. The grave was dug up and the head cut off with a sickle. The managing committee of the qabristan met at the cemetery but this time they were joined by a large number of men from the minority community. Protests broke out almost instantaneously. Tyres were burnt and buses were not allowed to leave the area. The mob alleged that the incidents were communally motivated. The entire region had reached boiling point. Rumours were circulating and in a small town rumours have a lot of power.
Speaking to Hardnews about those chaotic days, Prasanna Khamsera, the Superitendent of Police (SP), said that his force was sure that the events were the outcome of a botched tantric ritual. Confident of this angle, Khamsera promised the people of Begun, Nandwai and Parsoli that the vandals would be apprehended in five days. (Picture: Head Constable Mukesh Chaudhary)
All the three incidents happened on Wednesday nights, indicating a clear pattern. Fear and insecurity had gripped the Muslims living in the area. The safety of the afterlife was questioned.
Chaudhary is an excitable, stocky man who stands a little over 5’10, and has served in the force for nearly 14 years. He has an eager voice and is ready to offer details of the cases he has solved. Quizzed about his success in Nimbahera, he says, “If something gets into my head, the only way I can get rid of it is by getting to the bottom of it in an all-consuming and obsessive way.”
Once the case was handed to Chaudhary, he promptly left for Begun. He handpicked three other constables – Roshan Jaat, Manendra Singh and Asif Khan – to assist him. He picked a team of locals and Asif was to be the pointsman who would liaise with any Muslim suspects. This was important because the team was to deal with the case in their civilian clothes rather than khaki. Their first step was to rule out personal animosity in the desecration of Mohammed Salim’s grave. Investigations revealed this to be a dead end.
Three incidents in a matter of a month, a clear pattern and eerie similarities between the incidents but no concrete leads made this case a tough nut to crack for the police. The longer the delay in solving the case, the greater the chances that the prevailing tension in the region would escalate. The tyre burning and the buses held to ransom were only a sign of things to come. “We had enlisted the help of a dog squad, but as so many people had come and gone, bringing in sniffer dogs did not help. There was a mobile forensics team that was employed. We were also keeping a check on the mobile chatter,” said Bhawani Singh. The police had pulled out all stops but with no success.
The eventual breakthrough came about due to the tireless legwork of Chaudhary and his crack team.
The policemen spread the message through the district that they were looking for someone who specialised in ceremonies that involved skulls. Chaudhary and his team began moving out and meeting people. “We got in touch with nearly 150 tantriks on the pretext of understanding the ritual around the mundi (skull) and where we could begin our search for the heads,” he said. So, for the next two days they visited as many tantriks as they could, “We would go sit with a tantrik, doing whatever he asked us to, and once we brought him some alcohol, he would suddenly start speaking freely.” They went one by one to each of the short-listed men. Some were dead and others had moved on to other professions. The team offered the tantriks who were left on the list a sum of `1 lakh for a human skull. The policemen were confronted by silence. There were only three days left out of the five-day deadline they had been set by their superiors. Then, good fortune came their way in the form of a mysterious phone call.
It was from a Yunus Khan, who claimed to possess a skull they could buy from him. Yunus is a part-time tantrik, full-time believer in the occult and an extremely unscrupulous person. According to Chaudhary, he would not think twice about sacrificing someone’s child if it made him richer. Asif was assigned to liaise with Yunus. They met at a teashop. Once contact was made, the special team started planting people around Yunus who would talk to him about their financial problems and urge him to reveal more about his practice. What slowly became clear was that Yunus wasn’t the only operative, but was part of a large gang that was attempting to pull off a tantric ritual in the hope of getting “rooms filled with money”. After a brief stint in Kuwait, Yunus had returned but had fallen on hard times. He was in crippling debt. Unable to find steady employment, he worked odd jobs on and off. Yunus boasted to Asif that he had performed smaller rituals involving animals, and offered to consult on tantric matters. Little did he know that he was like a fly who had flown into a honey trap.
Yunus called Khaled, and Khaled called Lakshman Jat, who got in touch with a local barber who scheduled the meeting between the gang and the police deep inside the forests surrounding Begun. Yunus and the barber, Kashiram Gujjar, were picked up by Chaudhary and Asif on the morning of June 7. They drove for hours and slowly made their way into the forest. “Our phone signals first weakened, then completely gave up; we were in a part of the forest that only animals dared to venture into,” recounted the constable.
When they reached the meeting point, the other members of the gangs were present but Lakshman Jat was missing. Once the exchange was completed and they emerged from the forest, the policemen revealed their true identities. Yunus and Khaled promptly jumped out of the car and made a run for it. It was Gujjar who gave up the rest. The men who were arrested were all extremely poor and unemployed: Gujjar, Onkar Bheel, Kashiram Bheel and Rajkumar Sen. “These four men were extremely poor, so poor that they didn’t even have mobile phones,” recounts Bhawani Singh. The police had recovered one skull, and needed to find the other one. In addition, they had to find Lakshman, Khaled and Yunus.
On June 8 they made the arrests public. On June 10, they managed to hunt down Lakshman in his native village of Uchnar Khurd. Khaled turned himself in on June 30. Lakshman not only revealed where the other head was, but also revealed how they went about it. Lakshman, Khaled and Yunus were the de facto leaders of the gang. Lakshman and Yunus had an interesting history with black magic. Both had at separate points taken part in and organised tantric ceremonies in the neighbouring forest. Jat had even gotten duped earlier, having been promised heaps of silver; a priest had conned him and run away with his money. This did not deter his spirit and interest in the supernatural. The series of exhumations turned out to be a search for a skull with teeth intact and in the right stage of decomposition as prescribed by the tantric texts they were following. Their search for a perfect skull nearly cost the entire region its peace. Yunus is still absconding.
'The team offered the tantriks who were left on the list a sum of `1 lakh for a human skull. The policemen were confronted by silence. There were only three days left out of the five-day deadline they had been set by their superiors. Then, good fortune came their way in the form of a mysterious phone call'
Mukesh Chaudhary now looks back on the case after his promotion as head constable. Begun has returned to normal and the eerie happenings have subsided completely. The events of June have now become part of local folklore and are on the lips of everyone we spoke to. Mukesh had some parting words about the case, which serves as a fitting conclusion: “This was a strange obsession and the height of blind belief. These graves are extremely pungent-smelling, and to go inside them and decapitate a body requires great determination and purpose. However, let me tell you, this gang was extremely dangerous and could have caused serious communal violence in the region, and it was imperative that we stopped them.”
This incident was not an isolated one. There is a nation wide demand for ‘perfect’ skulls which can sometimes fetch upto lakhs of rupees. Through his investigation, Chaudhary has provided a peep into a nation wide network of skull stealers that specialised in tantric rituals to help the desperate to earn wealth or capture political power. (ends)