Police in eastern India have arrested six men accused of battering a woman and her four young children to death and dumping the bodies down a village well because they suspected she was a witch casting spells.
Five men – all from the same family – along with a witch doctor broke into Mandri Munda’s home in the state of Odisha on January 24 and used a crowbar to kill her and her children, aged 4, 7, 12 and 10 months, said Sushant Das, inspector at the Koida police station.
They alleged the woman had been practicing black magic and had cast a spell on their own family, which caused a 12-year-old girl to fall ill and die in December.
“The family had gone to a witch doctor, Budhram Munda. He said there is a witch in the village and that is why she (the daughter) had died,” said Das.
Witch doctors are seen by believers as having powers to protect others against witchcraft.
The family had confronted the victim earlier and decided to take action after another family member fell ill.
The victim’s husband called the police after arriving home the next day to find his family missing and signs of violence inside the home.
A blood trail led police to a well where the accused had dumped the bodies. They arrested the five men and the witch doctor who made the initial claims against the victim.
The persecution of women accused of witchcraft is especially common in rural areas in the eastern Indian states of Odisha and Jharkhand. According to the National Crime Records Bureau, a total of 134 people were killed in 2016 on suspicion of witchcraft.
In 2013 the Odisha state government passed a law which made accusations of witchcraft and harassment a criminal offense punishable by up to three years in prison.
Police are holding the six men on suspicion of murder, criminal conspiracy and witch-hunting. Formal charges have yet to be made.