Villagers in a rural part of eastern India have killed five women whom they accused of practising witchcraft, police have said.
Police in eastern Jharkhand state said on Saturday that a group of assailants dragged the women out of their huts and beat them to death at around midnight on Friday in their village, some 30km from the state capital, Ranchi.
"A group [of villagers] dragged the women out and beat them to death with sticks, accusing them of practising witchcraft," Ranchi deputy police chief Arun Kumar Singh told the AFP news agency by phone.
At least 21 villagers have been arrested over the killings of the women, who were mostly aged between 45 and 50.
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"Aishwarya Devi named four other women. Some of the villagers beat those five women to death. So far, we have arrested 21 people in the case," said Singh.
In yet another barbaric incident related to superstition in the tribal state, the villages alleged that those five women had killed a boy through their black magic.
"A boy died in the village a week ago. Allegation was levelled against a woman that she killed the boy through witchcraft," Singh said.
Belief in witchcraft widespread
Belief in witchcraft and the occult remains widespread in some parts of India.
In some cases women are stripped naked as punishment, burnt alive or driven from their homes and killed.
Some states including Jharkhand have introduced special laws to try to curb crimes against people accused of witchcraft.
Jharkhand Chief Minister Raghubar Das condemned the latest killings in a statement on Saturday, urging society to "ponder over it".
"In the age of knowledge, this incident is sorrowful."
The province accounted for 54 out of 160 barbaric cases where women were condemned as witches and killed in 2013. A total of 400 women have been murdered since 2001 in the state.
The National Crime Records Bureau has recorded 2,097 such killings between 2000 and 2012 in India.
|The beating deaths took place around midnight on Friday in the in eastern Jharkhand state [Al Jazeera]