India arrest 16 for beheading woman for 'witchcraft'


22 July 2015

Police in India say they have held 16 people in connection with the killing of a woman accused of practising witchcraft.

Purni Orang, 63, was stripped naked and beheaded by villagers in Assam state, after she was blamed for illness in a tribal settlement in Sonitpur district.

Among those arrested were nine women.

Police in Assam say nearly 90 people, mostly women, have been beheaded, burnt alive or stabbed to death after such accusations over the last six years.

Branding women as witches is particularly prevalent among tribal communities and tea plantation workers in the state.

The police said the villagers in Sonitpur district had killed another woman after branding her a witch some seven years ago.

A group of villagers have protested at the local police station, demanding the release of those arrested.

"Purni was a witch and had cast evil spells on her enemies, there is no place for such sorcerers and so her killing is justified", Kiran Teronpi, a villager, was quoted as saying by the AFP news agency.

In October, an Indian athlete Debjani Bora was severely beaten after being branded a witch in Assam.

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.