India ‘witch hunters’ kill mother and four children

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India 'witch hunters' kill mother and four children

Image caption The woman and her children were found dead in a well near their home

Police in India are searching for more suspects in connection with the murder of a woman and her four children who were accused of being "witches".

Six people in the eastern state of Orissa have already been arrested, but police believe more people were involved in the crime.

The bodies of Mangri Munda and her children were found in a well near their home on 26 January.

"Witch hunts" targeting women are fairly common in parts of India.

Senior police officer Kavita Jalan told the BBC that the main accused, who has been arrested, claimed to be a "witch doctor".

He had accused Ms Munda and her children, who lived in a tribal settlement in Sundergarh district, of "casting spells" on another family in the village.

On 25 January, a group of men broke into Ms Munda's home late at night when she and her two sons and two daughters – aged one, four, seven and 12 respectively – were asleep. They attacked them with wooden sticks and an axe before dumping their bodies inside a well.

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Branding women as witches is particularly prevalent among tribal communities in the state.

Police say they are looking for others who were involved in the crime and will make more arrests.

"It is necessary to raise awareness among people in the village against such superstitious activities," Ms Jalan added.

Murders related to "witchcraft" are on the rise in Orissa, despite an act which bans witch hunts. Nine people were given the death penalty last year for murdering three members of a family who were accused of being witches.

Women are also frequently targeted in the states of Assam and Jharkhand for similar reasons.

Police records state that 99 cases of "witch hunting" were reported in Orissa in 2017, which is an increase from the previous year, when 83 cases were reported.

Experts say superstitious beliefs are behind some of these attacks, but there are occasions when people – especially widows – are targeted for their land and property.

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