The villagers were attacked in Bhelwa village in Jharkhand state on Monday for trying to form a self-defence group to fight the militants, said the area's home commissioner, J B Tubid.

He blamed the outlawed Maoist Communist Centre, or MCC, for the killings. There was no way to independently verify the claim.

Police officers have reached the village to investigate and determine if there were more casualties, he said. The area is 100km northeast of Ranchi, the capital of Jharkhand.

"The villagers had organised themselves and formed a group to fight the militants. The militants wanted to terrorise them," Tubid said.
 
The MCC has tried to pressure the villagers since they formed the self-defence group.

Three months ago, they abducted 13 villagers and threatened them, Tubid said. The men were later released.

MCC is one of several prominent communist groups in India, and is fighting government forces alongside other rebel groups in rural areas of several states.

The rebels oppose what they call oppression of the poor by the government and landowners.

Jharkhand is an eastern state rich in minerals and forest resources, but its people are among the poorest in India.