Villagers insist that they encountered the alleged headhunters

Trashiyangtse police will forward the case involving the Brenglum tshogpa of Khamdang gewog to the dzongkhag court for allegedly spreading false alarm on the presence of headhunters in the gewog.

Police officials said the tshogpa reported in a parent-teacher WeChat group that three men (two non Bhutanese and a Bhutanese) believed to be headhunters had entered Khamdang gewog in Trashiyangtse on May 3.

The first information report (FIR) filed by police stated the tshogpa, with the help of a teacher of Khamdang Primary School, turned the voice recording into mp3 format and posted on the WeChat group.

It stated that with over 102 members in the group, the message went viral overnight.

Tshogpa Dorji Wangdi, however, said that he didn’t mean to instill fear or create panic among the public. “I acted out of concern for my village men and especially the children,” he said.

He said he never realised that things would turn out this way. “I just wanted my people to be safe and now I’m the one who is scared.”

According to sources, the incident involving the tshogpa surfaced after a 32-year-old woman, on her way towards Khamdang, encountered two men with caps and rubber boots on May 2.

Since the news of headhunters was already circulating in the area from pictures and news on social media, the woman assumed the men to be headhunters.

As the woman fled the situation, she went to a house and shared with the house owner about the alleged headhunters. The house owner then alerted the neighbours.

This was when Dorji Wangdi sent the voice message informing the WeChat group members of the headhunters.

Trashiyangtse dzongdag, Thuji Tshering, said that although in good faith, the message was spread without consulting the concerned authorities. “Police, during the investigation found no basis to the rumour. As of latest information, there is no issue here.”

Meanwhile, police said that rumours circling the eastern dzongkhags about headhunters were a false alarm. In a notification posted on their Facebook page, Royal Bhutan Police HQs Thimphu, police cautioned that anyone spreading the false news on headhunters (khekpas) would be charged with the offence of false alarm. The notification was posted around 3pm on May 7.

“When asked about how the Brenglum tshogpa was sure about the existence of headhunters, he said that he was told by Bhutan Builder workers,” Lieutenant Colonel Sonam Goenzing, who is based at the crime and operation branch in the headquarters said.

He said that the tshogpa claimed that he got the information from social media, and that the headhunters were at Lhuentse.

Section 488 of the Penal Code of Bhutan states that, “A defendant shall be guilty of the offence of false alarm, if the defendant circulates a report or warning of an impending bombing or other catastrophe knowing that the report or warning is false or baseless and that is likely to cause public inconvenience or alarm.”

The offence of false alarm is graded a petty misdemeanour.

Sources in the east however say that the headhunter rumour of men travelling in a Bolero pickup reportedly first spread from Balam gewog in Mongar. Following a rumour that surfaced between April 10 and 20, people in the gewog and nearby settlements declared curfew after 9pm.

Local leaders in Balam said that three men who said that they had come to buy cattle in the village were the initial suspects of being headhunters. Finding the presence of the three men suspicious, residents reported the incident to the police.

Following some interrogation, the three men were asked to leave the village at once since it was around of the time of the poll day for National Council elections.

One of the men, Sangay Dorji, said that they had come to buy cattle in the village and since it was late, they decided to spend the night in the village. “We are not khekpas,” said the 30-year-old. All three men were from Samdrupjongkhar.

However, some of the villagers in Balam have experienced encounters that they believe were with khekpas.

Choki Dorji, a herder from Yangnyer village claimed that the three men in the forest chased him. “I was out with my cattle in the forest when I suddenly heard three men speaking a mixed language of Dzongkha, Hindi and Nepali,” he said. “When they saw me looking at them, they chased me. I escaped unharmed. Now we take our cattle in groups to the forest.”

Another villager, Sonam Wangchuk, said that a man tried to break into his house recently. Around 8:30pm, there was a knock on his door. “When I opened the door, there was a man standing but he ran away,” said the 66-year-old.

Midway his slumber, he saw flashlights zooming into his house from the window nearby. “I could tell that it was the same man who knocked on my door,” he said. “I tried hitting him on the hands with my knife but I missed. He ran off.”

Balam mangmi, Dechen Wangdi, said that despite several complaints from the public, it was difficult to prove the existence of headhunters. “The incidences they have reported to us could be of burglars or even headhunters, but we do not have any evidences to support the claims.”

Lt. Colonel Sonam Goenzing said the rumour is suspected to have started between April 7 and 12. “It was first reported in Lhuentse.”

He said two men namely, Gyem Tshering and Kencho Dorji, had travelled to Lhuentse last month. “Kencho Dorji had accompanied Gyem Tshering who had gone to meet his wife and child in Tangmachu. While in Lhuentse, Kencho Dorji had gone to see his friend at Minjey. He had parked the WagonR car near a shop. He had also requested the shopkeeper to keep an eye on it.”

He said that while he was returning, he saw three boys and a woman looking at the vehicle but paid no heed and drove to where he stayed. “After a few days, he saw the picture of the vehicle in one of the groups in WeChat where it was labeled as the car of the headhunter.”

Lt. Colonel Sonam Goenzing said the unusual antennae fixed at the front part of the WagonR could have made people suspicious. “We are trying to locate these men. The case is still under investigation and this rumour is not true at all.”

He said people have to refrain from spreading such rumour. “It is not just police’s work. It is every one’s responsibility.”

Meanwhile, by yesterday evening, another voice recording on WeChat stating that four people claiming to be headhunters were in Sipsoo, Samtse started circulating. The message cautioned parents to keep their children safe.

Younten Tshedup | Trashigang 

Additional reporting by Rinchen Zangmo from Thimphu and Tashi Phuntsho from Mongar