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Assam Beheading: Tantra Backlash or Simply a Murder? | Video

Why the beheading of a five-year-old boy in Assam is a murder and may not be a tantric ritualistic human sacrifice.

Updated
India
4 min read
An assortment of items, including the machete, seized from the spot where a five-year-old boy was beheaded near a tea estate in Sonitpur district, Assam, on May 28. (Photo: Special Arrangement)

The man, clad in a white singlet and a pink gamchha wrapped around his waist, lies belly down. His smashed head, face down, is buried in a pool of blood which is deepest around the neck, suggesting he may even have been decapitated. Nanu Mirdha, believed to be about 45 years of age, was lynched on May 28 moments after he used a dao (machete) to behead five-year-old Sanatan, son of his one-time friend Sajjan Bagh, in Tarajuli tea estate (line number 8) in Assam’s Sonitpur district.

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The story of the beheading of the child and the subsequent lynching of Mirdha spread like bush fire across Assam. The local media screamed “tantric killing”. But police sources whom The Quint spoke to over phone had a more rational explanation. “It was plain murder. Mirdha was motivated by enmity towards his one-time friend with whom he had fallen out since their return from Manipur where the two worked as casual labour at a construction site three to four years ago,” a district police officer disclosed.

Rift Between Friends

For the past two years, Nanu, who had fled back to Tarajuli from Manipur after stealing the contractor’s money, which appears to be the most plausible reason for the rift with Sajjan, underwent profound behavioural changes that the police believe are “unheard of” among the adivasis who inhabit the undulating landscape of sprawling tea estates where they earn meagre wages as labourers.

One, he stopped drinking. And two, he had taken to worshipping and praying. His mud and thatched roof home has two rooms, one of which he adorned with framed photographs of a number of Indian gods and goddesses, including the fierce Kali, as also Shiva and Ganesha who are not quite associated with trantricism as practiced centuries ago across Assam with its physical representation in the awesome Kamakshya temple in Guwahati.

Photographs of gods and goddesses adorned the walls of Nanu’s mud and thatched roof house. (Photo by Special Arrangement)
Photographs of gods and goddesses adorned the walls of Nanu’s mud and thatched roof house. (Photo by Special Arrangement)

Assam’s Tantric Infamy

Infamous throughout India as a land of black magic, violent ritual and tribal superstition, Assam has long been imagined to be the heart of the secret and licentious practice of tantra. Today, we would be repulsed and horrified by the rituals in the name of tantra and associated occult practices. Yet they also tantalise and titillate because of the deliberate use of what is normally thought as impure and defile. From the Orientalist perspective of the 18th and 19th centuries, tantra was viewed as the worst mix of sensuality and religion and therefore the clearest symptom of degeneration of Hinduism in modern times.

In trantricism, which was widespread along the long geographical arch beginning in Bengal and going up to Assam between the 9th and 16th centuries, human sacrifice and its associations with Kali were eerily brought to life. In trantric texts, Kali’s tongue has often been described as beautiful, red with the blood of animals and men.

In the sanctum sanctorum of Kolkata’s famous temple in Kalighat, the image of the fearsome goddess is nothing but a three-foot-long tongue, signalling death – both devotional and physical. Out in the marbled courtyard, goat after goat – in modern times an easy substitute for a human – are led to the stake and sacrificed.

A Poor Tea Garden Labourer

Nanu is dead now and we will never know whether he had visions of Kali or of blood offering (bali) when he brought the machete down on Sanatan’s tender neck. There is nothing to suggest that he ever visited Kamkashya or even went to school -- schools are conspicuous by their absence -- in the wretched villages that the tea estate labourers, who were forcibly uprooted from the tribal belt of what is now Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand by the East India Company to work the tea gardens in the early 19th century, inhabit.

Machete that was used to slay the 5 year old boy. (Photo by Special Arrangement)
Machete that was used to slay the 5 year old boy. (Photo by Special Arrangement)

Clearly, the indentured tribal labourers had no historic or cultural links with the trantricism practiced in the Brahmaputra valley centuries ago by non-Hindu tribal kings who adopted Kamakshya, Kali and other Sakta tantric goddesses. Tantra in Assam represented a complex negotiation between brahmanic traditions and local indigenous rituals founded on the grisly practice of animal and human blood offerings. The practice of tantra has also been celebrated as a kind of liberation from an oppressive social hierarchy.

Oppressed and exploited by the East India Company and post-independence tea garden owners for decades, it is only in recent years that the plantation labourers have turned violent challenging the established order. But perhaps Nanu, who, save a photo of an image of Kali in his modest tenement, evidently had not even remote links with trantrik practices, subconsciously inverted those rituals to destroy a perceived “enemy” in Sajjan. The bloody beheading of a child became a substitute for an adult male.


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