Police officers talk to villagers following the killing. Jharkhand police spokesman S.N. Pradhan claimed some had ganged up on the force, accusing them of the murders
Five women have been beaten to death by dozens of villagers in India who accused them of practicing witchcraft and blamed them for a series of misfortunes in the area.

Residents of Kinjia village, around 40km (25 miles) from Jharkhand state capital Ranchi, dragged the women out of their homes and attacked them with sticks and iron rods on Saturday, said Arun Kumar Singh, a deputy inspector-general of police in Ranchi.

The attackers blamed the women for several accidents and misfortunes suffered by villagers, including the death of an infant in Kinjia earlier in the week, Singh said.

Jharkhand police spokesman S.N. Pradhan said the villagers also used stones and knives after blaming the five women for bringing illness, poor crops and bad luck on the village through witchcraft.

'It looks like the village held a grudge against these women for a very long time, holding them responsible for... various misfortunes,' Pradhan told AFP.


Blood stains on the ground at the spot where the women were bludgeoned to death with sticks, iron rods, stones and knives
'The whole village is ganging up against the police now saying they all killed the women,' he said, adding that an investigation was underway.

Police have so far arrested around 50 people involved in the attack, mostly aged between 45 and 50. A large number of police officers have been deployed in the village to prevent any outbreak of violence.

Jharkhand's top elected official, Chief Minister Raghubar Das, condemned the incident. 'In the age of knowledge, this incident is sorrowful. Society should ponder over it,' he said in a statement.

Belief in witchcraft and the occult remains widespread in some impoverished and remote areas in India, where women are sometimes accused of being witches to settle disputes or grievances.

In some cases women are stripped naked as punishment, burnt alive or driven from their homes and killed.

Last month, machete-wielding villagers in the northeastern state of Assam dismembered and beheaded a 63-year-old woman after accusing her of being a witch and casting evil spells on her village.

According to India's National Crime Records Bureau, around 2,100 people, mostly women, were killed between 2000 and 2012 on suspicions of practising witchcraft.

Jharkhand accounted for 54 of 160 'witch hunt' murders in 2013, government data showed.

Some Indian states including Jharkhand have introduced special laws to try to curb crimes against people accused of witchcraft.