Page last updated at 10:48 GMT, Thursday, 18 March 2010

Indian children may have been 'sacrificed'

By Prachi Pinglay
BBC News, Mumbai


Five children poisoned to death in a village in India may have been "sacrificed", police say.

They say that the children were killed in Maharashtra state by a childless couple in a suspected black magic ritual to enable them to conceive.

The couple and parents of the accused husband have been arrested. Officials say post-mortem results are awaited.

Black magic is sometimes carried out in poorer parts of India by people who believe it will provide benefits.

These can include helping childless women to bear children and producing more rainfall.

'Foul play'

Police say they are looking for the tantrik, or witch doctor, who advised the couple to "sacrifice" 11 children in accordance with black magic rituals.

They say that Vitthal and Vandana Mokle were married for 12 years but were unable to conceive despite frequently visiting doctors.

Investigating Officer Sheikh Abdul Rauf told the BBC that after initial inquiries they suspected foul play in the deaths of the children.

"The first death occurred in December 2009 and the most recent one was in March," he said.

"After speaking to villagers we investigated the Mokle family's role. The parents of Vitthal have also been arrested as they seem to be part of this plan.

"The prima facie case is that they poisoned six children - only one survived but he is unable to speak."

All the children were aged between two and four and were related to each other.

Initially residents of the village of Digras - close to the Vidarbha region of Maharashtra - thought the deaths were because of snake bites as the children showed typical symptoms - such as frothing in the mouth and vomiting.

The village has a population of about 300 people living in approximately 30 to 40 houses.

Officials say that they are awaiting post-mortem reports on the deaths - and until then it is not possible to ascertain the exact circumstances of the deaths.

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