'Witch' family killed in India

Assam, India - Four members of a family have died after being attacked by villagers who said they were practising witchcraft in India's north-eastern state of Assam.

Police said that the four, including two women, were stoned by the villagers and may have been buried alive.

The killings in a remote village involved Santhal tribal people.

Such killings are common among immigrant tribespeople whose ancestors were brought to work the tea gardens in West Bengal and Assam by the British.

They are mostly common in the communities of Santhal, Oraon and Munda tribespeople.

'Evil spell'

One of the victims, Lakhan Majhi, 65, was asked to face a "public trial" on Tuesday evening at Koilajuli Milanpur village in Assam.

Hundreds of his neighbours blamed him for casting an evil spell on a villager who died after getting sick.

Then Majhi, his wife, son and daughter-in-law were brutally attacked with stones and bricks.

Police said the four were dragged to a nearby jungle and buried alive.

More than 500 people have been killed in Assam - and half as many in neighbouring West Bengal - in the past few years because their neighbours thought they were witches.

A study on these killings by a Bengal police officer, Asit Baran Choudhury, suggests that most of those accused of practising witchcraft and then killed are "isolated families" with some landed property.

He says most of those killed are widows.

"Powerful people in the community target them to acquire the land," says the study.

But in some cases, whole families are killed because they have challenged the authority of the community elders.

Police say that was perhaps the motive behind the attack on the Majhis in Assam's Milanpur village on Tuesday.

Villages such as Milanpur have little education and healthcare provision, lack electricity and safe drinking water, and face rampant disease.