Police in eastern Jharkhand state said a group of assailants dragged the women out of their huts and beat them to death at around midnight Friday in their village Kanjiya Maraitoli, some 30 kilometres from state capital Ranchi.
“A group (of villagers) dragged the women out and beat them to death with sticks, accusing them of practising witchcraft,” Ranchi deputy police chief Arun Kumar Singh told AFP by phone.
Singh added that 24 villagers have been arrested over the killings of the women, who were mostly aged between 45 and 50.
Killings in the name of witchcraft are common in Jharkhand, said a report published on Times of India. Over 1,000 women have been killed in the state in the last decade for allegedly practising witchcraft, according to an estimate.
A villager said that in the last six months, four children died after prolonged illness. Locals believed that the women had allegedly practised witchcraft on the children and were responsible for their demise.
The locals decided to eliminate the women together for the welfare of the village, the villager said.
Jharkhand Chief Minister Raghubar Das condemned the latest killings in a statement on Saturday, urging society to “ponder over it”.
“In the age of knowledge, this incident is sorrowful,” he said.
Belief in witchcraft and the occult remains widespread in some impoverished areas of India.
In some cases women are stripped naked as punishment, burnt alive or driven from their homes and killed. Some states including Jharkhand have introduced special laws to try to curb crimes against people accused of witchcraft.