Village ‘witches’ beaten in India

Salman Ravi, BBC News, Ranchi,  2009/10/20

Five women were paraded naked, beaten and forced to eat human excrement by villagers after being branded as witches in India’s Jharkhand state.

Local police said the victims were Muslim widows who had been labelled as witches by a local cleric.

The incident occurred on Sunday in a remote village in Deoghar district.

Correspondents say the abuse of women who are branded as witches is common, but rare footage of the incident has caused outrage across India.

Police went to Pattharghatia village after being informed about the incident by a group of villagers.

‘Possessed’

They have lodged a case against 11 villagers, including six women. Four people have been arrested in connection with the incident.

“ The victims were taken to a playground where hundreds had assembled to watch 
Murari Lal Meena Deputy police inspector general

Armed police have since been deployed to the area.

“On Sunday morning the victims were taken to a playground where hundreds had assembled to watch the ghastly incident,” deputy inspector general of police Murari Lal Meena told the BBC.

“No one in the mob came forward to rescue the victims as they were being stripped and beaten up,” he said.

The victims are now under police protection.

Police say that people in Pattharghatia believe that certain women in their village are possessed by a “holy spirit” that can identify those who practise witchcraft.

“These women recently identified five women from the same village as being witches who practised witchcraft and brought miseries to the area,” a police official said.

Soon, an unruly mob broke into their huts, dragged them out and started beating them up.

Footage of the incident has been aired on television channels in India prompting outrage.

Hundreds of people, mostly women, have been killed in India because their neighbours thought they were witches.

Experts say superstitious beliefs are behind some of these attacks, but there are occasions when people – especially widows – are targeted for their land and property.

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