In a gruesome incident, five minor girls were found murdered in their house under mysterious circumstances in Bihar’s Gaya district on Thursday. The police said a land dispute was likely to be the motive.

The mass murder in Dulha bigha tola (hamlet) of Sonas village came to light when family members discovered the bodies on Thursday morning. The girls are between eight and 16 years of age.

The victims – Sweety, Julie, Runni, Amisha and Manisha Kumari – are the daughters of three brothers Bipin, Bharat and Shahsibhushan Singh.

“The girls were sleeping in different rooms in the house. There are bullet injuries. One bullet has been recovered. This seems to be an internal property issue. Noone heard anything. There are no signs of break-in,” Nishant Kumar Tiwari, Gaya’s Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) told The Hindu.

The police arrested a village resident, Anant Singh, based on the complaint of the victims’ families and booked him for murder. However, the accused alleged that the family members themselves killed their daughters, Mr. Tiwari said.

Baffling

The circumstances in which the bodies were found and the silence of villagers baffled investigators. Opinion seems to be divided in the village with the needle of suspicion pointing to both the arrested accused and the victims’ families. However, no one is ready to speak out due to the fear of getting embroiled in the case, the police said.

Surprisingly, no family member was present at the house during the night. “Each girl was sleeping in a separate room. All of them have similar type of head injuries, namely gunshot wounds in the head. According to one family member, after eating dinner at 8 p.m. on Wednesday night, the entire family went to sleep at a neighbour’s house. Asked if the doors of the rooms and the main gate of the house were locked, they did not give a clear answer. The doors of the rooms of a nine-year-old victim as well as that of a 15-year-old victim were open,” Mohammad Ali Ansari, sub-divisional police officer, told The Hindu.

Preliminary findings of the post-mortem examination point to injuries due to gunshots from a close range, Mr. Tiwari said.

According to Jainendra Kumar, Gaya district president of the Bharatiya Janata Party, the three brothers had purchased 10 bighas (under two acres) of land from Anant Singh about three months ago. However, Anant Singh alleged that the land was residential property, but was sold as agricultural land. Secondly, though possession was taken for 10 bighas, payment was made for only two bighas.

In the wake of these objections, female members of the girls’ families lodged complaints of sexual harassment against Anant Singh. Then Mr. Singh’s family tried to file a counter-complaint of sexual harassment, but the police did not take that complaint.

“However, fearing arrest, the Singh brothers, their sons and women of the house slept elsewhere, leaving the girls behind in their house,” Mr. Kumar told The Hindu.

The police are still to ascertain the facts of the case. The SSP has constituted a special investigation team. A forensic team from Patna was also dispatched for Gaya.