As many as 200 women are lynched every year in India after being accused of practising witchcraft, a study by a charity has found. The deaths are most prevalent in poverty-stricken villages populated by tribal groups in the northern Indian state of Jharkhand, with cases also reported in the states of Andhra Pradesh, Haryana and Orissa.
Avdhash Kaushal, chairman of the Rural Litigation and Entitlement Kendra, said that most victims were single or widowed and were often targeted for their land or money. They are often forced to drink urine or eat excreta in public and are then paraded naked through the village. An estimated 200 are killed each year, with many more committing suicide afterwards out of shame.
"During our legal literacy program in tribal villages, we came across these incidents of women being called witches and then being killed," he said of his charity, which helps tribal groups with litigation and welfare. The figure of 200 is an estimate based on research done by the charity in Jharkhand and figures from police and state authorities in other states. In the last 15 years, more than 2500 women have been killed for being witches, Kaushal estimated.
"A law against killing in the name of witchcraft has been passed in the states of Jharkhand, Bihar and Chattisgarh, but it is rarely implemented and the highest punishment for committing such a barbaric act is only three months," he said. The charity has petitioned India's Supreme Court asking the chief justice to investigate the number of women killed.