A mob hacked a family to death in a village in the eastern Indian state of Odisha on Monday, having suspected its members of sorcery and witchcraft that was making children sick.
The family was asleep in their mud hut in Lahanda, a rural tribal community in the Keonjhar district, when attackers armed with axes entered their home and stabbed both parents and their six children as they slept, police told Reuters.
The authorities discovered a gruesome scene at the home: hacked bodies, pools of blood, a discarded axe, and a young boy who was still alive amid the carnage.
"The eight-year-old boy was found by police gasping between the dead bodies," District Superintendent of Police Kavita Jalan said. It was later reported that the couple's 18-year-old son was also found to be breathing after officers believed him to be dead.
The police are searching for the perpetrators, who they believe are related to the victims. In an unrelated incident, police on Monday recovered the remains of a man who was beaten to death and burned by a mob over allegations of sorcery in Rayagada district, also in Odisha state.
Accusations of witchcraft and acts of violence against those who are suspected are not uncommon in India, particularly in remote rural areas where tribal traditions and a lack of development help foster superstition. Attacks are usually seen in isolated communities that have severely limited access to education and healthcare.
"People believe in superstition because they do not have healthcare," Debendra Sutar, secretary of the Odisha Rationalist Society, a charity, told Reuters. "They are uneducated. Unless we provide them these basic facilities, the situation will not improve."
Data from the National Crime Records Bureau shows that there were 160 cases of murders linked to witch hunts in 2013, up from 119 in 2012.
The extent of the problem is such that Odisha banned the branding of someone a witch in 2013 with the passage of the Odisha Prevention of Witch-Hunting Bill, which stipulates punishment of up to seven years. This is the fourth case of witchhunting in Keonjhar over the past year.
Outlying areas of Odisha — which has long been affected by a slow-burning Maoist insurgency — have high rates of illiteracy, child malnutrition, and infant and maternal mortality. The have been 278 reported deaths in Odisha over accusations of witchcraft in the last five years.
In January, eight people including two girls had their teeth pulled and were forced to eat excrement by attackers in Odisha's Ganjam district that accused them of witchcraft. The following month, 23 people were arrested for torturing a 32-year-old man that they suspected of using black magic, also forcing him to eat excrement.
"Whoever forces any woman, branding her as witch, to drink or eat any inedible substance or any other obnoxious substance or parade her with painted face or body or commits any similar acts which is derogatory to human dignity or displaced from her house, shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which shall not be less than one year but may extend to five years and with fine," says the state's Prevention of Witch-Hunting law.
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