Page last updated at 18:04 GMT, Thursday, 27 March 2008

Indian villagers 'killed witch'

By Faisal Mohammad Ali
BBC News, Bhopal


Police in the central Indian state of Chhattisgarh say they have arrested 17 villagers over the killing of a woman suspected of being a witch.

The 40-year-old woman, Phool Kunwar, was dragged from her home on Monday night, beaten and burned with a hot iron, police say.

The accused include three women. If found guilty, they could face the death penalty or life in prison.

Social activists say such cases are common in India.

Police say Ms Kunwar was beaten with sticks and sharp rods, burned with a hot iron and pushed into a burning pyre in the village of Dhawalpur.

Junior police chief Rajeshwar Singh said she died of her injuries and was then buried.

Mr Singh said the terrorised family of the dead woman reported the killing to the police on Tuesday.

The body was then exhumed, a post-mortem carried out and several suspects arrested.

'Divine powers'

The accused face charges of homicide and of destroying the evidence of the crime.

They also face charges relating to special laws introduced in Chhattisgarh to prevent people from making accusations of witchcraft.

One of the accused said she had done nothing wrong because she was instructed by a divine power to punish the woman for being a witch.

Villagers are reported as saying that the trouble started after a woman in a trance during a religious ceremony stated that Ms Kunwar was a witch.

A social activist in the region, Dinesh Mishra, said such cases sometimes occurred when women who claimed to have divine healing powers accused witches of causing the poor health or death of villagers.

There were 160 such cases reported in Chhattisgarh last year.

Mr Mishra said the reported cases were only the tip of the iceberg as families of those tortured or killed are often afraid of being ostracised.

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