Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren on Wednesday ordered an inquiry by a special investigation team into the murder of seven people in a village in West Singhbhum district on Sunday evening. The villagers were allegedly decapitated and differences over the Pathalgadi movement are suspected to be the reason, some police officials claimed. No one has been arrested so far.

West Singhbhum Superintendent of Police Indrajit Mahata told Hindustan Times that the deceased were anti-Pathalgadi activists, while their attackers were supporters of the movement, but it may be a coincidence. “We will be able to speak about the conclusive Pathalgadi link only after further investigation,” he said.

He told The Indian Express that nine persons had ransacked a few houses in the village on January 16, after which a meeting was convened on January 19 and all nine were called for it. “Two persons ran away during the meeting,” he claimed. “The villagers caught seven and killed them.”

The two persons who ran away are still missing.

The decades-old Pathalgadi movement, which seeks self-rule for gram sabhas, resurfaced in 2017, when stone monoliths engraved with provisions of the Indian Constitution began to be installed in the villages of Khunti. The engravings highlighted the special autonomy granted to Adivasi areas under the Fifth Schedule of the Indian Constitution.

Police reached Burugulikera village, where the incident took place, on Tuesday, and retrieved the bodies on Wednesday from a valley, 5 km from the village, an unidentified police officer told The Indian Express. “The bodies had been heaped together and bore multiple injury marks,” the officer said. “It appeared they had been dragged away. We have recovered an axe from the scene of crime.”

“The problem between the Pathalgadi factions in the village had been brewing for a while,” the officer said. “The anti-Pathalgadi faction did not pay heed to the call by the pro-Pathalgadi people who asked them to submit some documents and reject government schemes. While resisting, the anti-Pathalgadi faction indulged in some sort of violence. In retaliation, the pro-Pathalgadi people, who form the majority in the village, held them hostage and later murdered them.”

Jharkhand Director General of Police KN Choubey, however, said Pathalgadi may have caused polarisation in the village, but investigation was needed to establish whether there was a link with the murders. “There are hidden reasons, apparent reasons and can be a combination of reasons,” he said. “An SIT has been formed to look into the matter.”

Chief Minister Hemant Soren held a meeting with senior bureaucrats and police officials to discuss the incident. He said the law was supreme and the guilty would not be spared.

In November, Scroll.in had reported that more than 10,000 people in Khunti district were facing sedition charges for erecting the Pathalgadi monoliths. However, after the Hemant Soren government came to power in December, it dropped all cases filed against supporters of the Pathalgadi movement in 2017 and 2018.