NEW DELHI: Four members of a family including two women were killed by fellow villagers in central India’s tribal heartland over allegations of witchcraft, authorities said yesterday. Four elders of a tribal family, all aged in their 60s according to local media reports, were attacked by around a dozen stick-wielding villagers outside their home late Saturday.
“It is linked to some local occult practitioner(s) who blamed some negative development in the tribal village to the members of this family,” Shashi Ranjan, deputy commissioner of Jharkhand state’s Gumla district said. Gumla is a densely forested tribal-dominated region some 100 kilometers from the regional capital Ranchi.

“Additional forces have been at the Siskari village since authorities found out about the incident,” he added. “It is peaceful but no one, not even survivors from the family, are saying anything, probably out of fear.” The senior-most district official said no one had been arrested so far as investigations continue. Experts say belief in witchcraft and the occult remains widespread in impoverished rural communities across India, especially in isolated tribal communities.

In the past, women have often been branded witches and targeted by locals. Some believe in the occult, or have other motives including usurping their rights over land and property. More than 2,000 people – many of them women – were killed in India on suspicion of witchcraft between 2000 and 2012, according to the National Crime Records Bureau. Some states, including Jharkhand, have introduced special laws to try to curb crimes against people accused of witchcraft and superstition.

Mob in kills three

In another development, a mob beat to death three men suspected of trying to steal cattle in India’s eastern state of Bihar, police said, the latest in a spate of attacks that have provoked alarm among religious minorities. In recent years angry mobs have lynched many people from marginalized groups in India, especially Muslims and the Dalits who occupy the lowest rung of the ancient caste system, often over suspicions of cow slaughter.
The three men were caught by some villagers early on Friday while trying to load cattle on a pickup truck, police official Har Kishore Rai said. “They were trying to load a buffalo and a calf when some villagers woke up and took the three into their custody and beat them up,” he said, adding that the men had died.
Police have arrested three people from the village of Pithauri and have filed a case of murder against four more from the village, administrative official Lokesh Mishra told Reuters. Police have filed a case of theft against the three men, and the villagers face a separate case of murder filed by the victims’ families, naming three accused people, although more names are likely to be added, Mishra said.
Hinduism, India’s dominant religion, considers cows sacred, and killing them is taboo. Activists have tracked a rise in the number of mob lynchings in the last five years that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist government has been in power. Critics accuse it of not having done enough to rein in such violence. The Supreme Court last year recommended making mob lynching a separate offence. In July, opposition parties in Bihar demanded a separate law against mob lynching in the state, where they say the problem is growing. – Agencies