Indian police arrest ten after "witch-hunt" leads to torture of elderly woman

by Jatindra Dash | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Monday, 4 August 2014 12:54 GMT

A woman shows her ink-marked finger after voting in the Indian state of Rajasthan April 24, 2014.REUTERS/Himanshu Sharma

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The elderly woman was beaten, stripped of her clothes and tied to an electricity pole for around 12 hours

BHUBANESHWAR, Aug 4 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Police have arrested 10 people in eastern India for the torture of a 60-year-old woman who villagers accused of being a witch.

The elderly woman was beaten, stripped of her clothes and tied to an electricity pole for around 12 hours in a village in Odisha state’s Mayurbhanj district on July 27, police said.

Villagers had blamed her for the death of an 18-year-old local boy, saying she had practiced witchcraft on him, although medical records showed he died of malaria.

Police said that ten villagers had been arrested and charged with various offences including disrobing a woman, physical assault and attempted murder.

"The most unfortunate part of this incident is that two of those arrested are her close relatives," investigating officer Jhelam Jena told Thomson Reuters Foundation, adding that more people might be arrested in the coming days.

The victim, who had been left in a critical condition, is now recovering from her injuries and has been given refuge in short stay home away from the village.

In a separate incident, a 22-year-old man was arrested on Saturday in the same district for murdering an elderly couple by hacking them to death with an axe after he suspected them of witchcraft.

The accused claimed the 65-year-old man and his 60-year-old wife were responsible for the deaths of his two brothers and sister who had died from various diseases over the last three years.

The practice of branding mostly women as witches and assaulting or killing them is still common is some parts of India, particularly among tribal communities, despite there being a law against it.

A United Nations official last year said that archaic cultural practices such as lynching women branded as witches, as well as so-called "honour" killings and "dowry murders" persisted in India, partly due to social sanction and police not treating such murders as crimes.

Government statistics show there were 160 cases of murder linked to witch hunts in 2013, and 119 the previous year.

(Editing by Nita Bhalla and Ros Russell)

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