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Wednesday, 26 June, 2002, 10:03 GMT 11:03 UK
Indian police tackle sorcery
Indian villagers
Illiteracy is blamed for the problem of superstition

Police in the southern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh have launched a massive campaign against superstition following several killings of suspected sorcerers.


We are telling the villagers, that whether you call it black magic or some thing else, murder is a crime and you will face punishment

Ramchandra Raju,
Ranga Reddy police
Officials in Ranga Reddy district said villagers were burning people suspected of practising witchcraft alive.

The district superintendent of police, Ramchandra Raju, said there had been eight such incidents in the last six weeks in his district alone.

Officials have reported many other cases elsewhere in the Telangana region.

Fear

Mr Raju told the BBC that an epidemic of fear had now spread over about 130 villages in his district.

Map

He said whenever a villager felt sick or died due to illness, people become suspicious that black magic was to blame.

Whoever they suspected of causing the magic was either beaten, driven out of the village or killed, they said.

Traditionally, local people would remove the teeth of suspected witches in the belief that it would take away their powers.

But Mr Raju said fear had driven people to take more extreme action.

Alarmed at the worsening situation, police have launched a publicity campaign using cultural troupes, cinema artists and professional magicians.

Black magic

Mr Raju said magicians were being used to convince villagers that black magic, known locally as Bhanamati, is no more than trickery or sleight of hand.

Police are also offering extra medical treatment for the sick as well as reminding villagers of the legal consequences of murder.

Mr Raju said those who kill in fear of black magic do not expect action to be taken against them.

"We are telling the villagers, that whether you call it black magic or some thing else, murder is a crime and you will face punishment," he said.

Mr Raju said the campaign was proving to be effective.

A recent survey by sociologists in Ranga Reddy district and other areas revealed that several factors including illiteracy and lack of medical awareness had contributed to the problem.

See also:

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