Kolkata, Jul 25: The Indian government is reportedly considering a proposal to declare all forms of witchcraft illegal to prevent a practice that has killed more than 2500 women in the last 16 years, official sources said.
The idea is to put in place a new law that would make witchcraft a social crime, the sources said. Crimes related to witchcraft — like human sacrifice and witch-hunting — are currently tried under certain laws but there is no bar on the practice of necromancy and voodoo.
The home ministry is now drafting a law that would be sent to the law ministry for clearance, the sources said.
Once cleared by the law ministry, the draft would be sent to state governments for suggestions.
The central government has moved to declare witchcraft illegal after the UN expressed concern at the number of murders ascribed to witch-hunting.
The UN also released figures of what is said were the victims of witchcraft and black magic around the world. The world body has named India along with countries in Africa, Asia and South America as a high-incidence zone for witchcraft related killings.
According to official figures, 2,556 women were branded as witches and killed in India between 1987 and 2003.
The figure was around 4,000 collectively for Britain, Scotland, Ireland, Wales and Australia between 1999 and 2003.
There were no specific figures for Africa and South America because almost all cases of witchcraft deaths happened in remote places and went unreported.
In India, the highest incidence of witchcraft-related crimes occurred in Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Orissa, Jharkhand and Uttar Pradesh.
According to the official sources, the West Bengal government has called a meeting of district officials Aug 3 to discuss the proposed law to ban witchcraft.
West Bengal has a relatively low incidence of witch-hunting, but superstition continues to claim a toll. On Thursday night, an 80-year-old man was beheaded by a group of men who said the sacrifice was to appease a river in spate that was eroding its embankment and threatening their homes.