NEW DELHI: India must do more to tackle the practice of witch-branding among tribal communities, activists said on Monday following the murder of five women accused of sorcery.
The victims, aged 35 to 52, were dragged out of their rural homes in the eastern state of Jharkhand in the early hours of Saturday and beaten and stabbed to death by villagers who accused them of killing a youth.
Police have arrested 27 people following the attack, but activists said a string of similarly horrific killings this year shows an urgent need to tackle the root causes of the practice and enforce the law.
“Many of these murders are linked to superstitious beliefs, but they are also due to economic reasons where people want to take the woman’s land or property,” said Ranjana Kumari, director of the Centre for Social Research, a women’s rights organisation in New Delhi.
“These crimes keep happening because the authorities have not done enough to create awareness. They don’t take them seriously and as a result, there are few prosecutions and convictions.”
In the last year there have been numerous reports of women being branded witches in villages across central, eastern and northeastern states. Government data shows there were 160 murders linked to witch hunts in 2013, against 119 the previous year.
Activists say figures are likely to be much higher as many cases go unreported, with witnesses fearing revenge attacks or ostracisation if they speak up.