An innocent owl that was on the verge of being sacrificed at the behest of a political aspirant would have been dead if not for timely intervention by the Kollegal Regional Forest officer (RFO).
In the last two months, forest officials have booked seven cases of poaching and arrested at least four people around Chamarajanagara district.
Those arrested admitted to the officials that they procured the owl at the behest of unknown middlemen for ‘Vamachara’ or black magic practitioners to ensure candidates’ victory.
Invoking the supernatural to help candidates in the Karnataka elections is not a new phenomenon, but the scale and modus operandi followed this time around has baffled officials.
Officials at Kollegal, Doddaballapur and Chikkaballapur district have been flooded with complaints of animals being transported for sacrificial purposes.
"In this case, poachers Rangawamy and Madesha were both paid Rs 3 lakh by a middleman. We were able to arrest them from the Odeyarpalya-Kannur bus stand at Chamarajanagar due to a timely tip off. But frankly, we don't know how many other animals have been sacrificed," a forest official said.
The owl, whose legs were tied, was kept in a grocery bag and weighed nearly 2.5 kg. The duo confessed that they were specifically told by the middleman to get a heavy and healthy bird.
"We just received about 10% of the total amount, the tantrik bills the politician no less than Rs 30 lakh," they said in a statement.
Rangawamy and Madesha have been granted bail, this despite the fact that the owl is protected under the 1972 Wildlife Protection Act.
According to officials, there is a nexus between middlemen, poachers and tantriks.
"Usually, the procurer does not know who the final recipient is. The animal or bird is passed between a few middlemen, and every broker adds their price. Most of the operation is carried out via Whatsapp. The moment a person in the chain is caught, the others simply discard him and switch to a new SIM card. The case goes blind," a Kollegal police official said.
A former practitioner, Shanmukhappa, who is 47-years-old and from Chamrajnagara district, explains the ‘tradition’.
"Normally, the bird is taken to the candidate’s home, rituals are performed and the bird is buried alive for 48 days. The candidate is supposed to sit over the burial spot and eat prasada meals. After the 48th day, the skeleton is retrieved and black magic is performed," he said.
Earlier, candidates used to chain a fox to their house. "Seeing a fox on a daily basis was considered to bring good luck. However, the flip-side of domesticating a fox was that at night it used to howl loudly and neighbours would confront the homeowner about performing black magic. Therefore, believers have abandoned foxes and taken to owls instead," a forest official said.
Officials said tantriks use members from the local tribal community to poach the bird and help conduct the rituals.
“In a couple of instances, members of the Devanga and Budbudke community have been repeatedly arrested for performing black magic. However, they were let-off as the charges could not be proven," the official added.
It isn’t just politicians from the state, but personalities from other states too pay for the services of the black magicians from Chamarajanagar.
"They come here as black magic materials are easily available here and many tantriks live here. We have reports of several clandestine visits by politicians, film personalities and businessmen who spend close to Rs 50 lakh on such practices," the official alleged.
Allegations of black magic abound. On Wednesday, BJP candidate Niranjan Kumar's photo was found at an intersection road at Gundlupet.
Recently, the face of Narendra Nayak, the President of Federation of Indian Rationalist (FIRA), was found stamped over a voodoo doll at a cremation ground in Mangaluru. The small chit inside the doll reportedly had the name of sitting MLA and Congress candidate from Managaluru South JR Lobo written on it.
Story by Story Infinity (Subs and Scribes Media Ventures LLP.)