India villagers kill two for 'witchcraft': Police

RAIPUR, India (AFP) - A group of villagers in eastern India killed an elderly woman and her daughter-in-law after accusing the pair of practising witchcraft, police have said.

Police in the eastern state of Jharkhand said a group of mainly female assailants beat the pair to death, after earlier deciding that they were responsible, through their alleged witchcraft, for the recent deaths of several children from illness.

"A 70-year-old woman and her 42-year-old daughter-in-law were killed by a large number of village women, who accused the duo of practising witchcraft," district police chief Rakesh Bansal said on Thursday.

"We have arrested 19 women from Karonda Jor village for their involvement in the killing," Mr Bansal told AFP.

The incident highlights the persistence of witchcraft and occult beliefs in some impoverished and tribal-dominated areas of India, leading to crimes primarily against women accused of taking part in black magic.

The women were killed on Tuesday evening in the village, about 85km north of the state capital Ranchi. Locals held a meeting and decided to fine the pair 1500 rupees (S$32) each for taking part in witchcraft, Mr Bansal said.

The collected money was then used to buy alcohol, which the villagers consumed before setting upon the pair, he added.

The attack follows another incident in the same district in June last year, when two teenagers and their father were killed by villagers after they were accused of practising witchcraft and "leaving ghosts behind them", a police official said.

Some states including Jharkhand have introduced special laws in an attempt to curb crimes against people accused of witchcraft.

Human sacrifices also sometimes occur in poorer and remote areas of deeply religious and superstitious India, where people fear and revere practitioners of so-called black magic.

The victims are killed by witch doctors to please or appease deities.

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