Police in India's Jharkhand state said that a group of assailants dragged the five victims out of their huts and lynched them around midnight on Friday. Their village is close to the state capital of Ranchi.
"A group [of villagers] dragged the women out and beat them to death with sticks, accusing them of practicing witchcraft," Arun Kumar, Ranchi's deputy police chief, told journalists. Authorities have arrested 24 people, believed to have been involved with the women's murder.
Local police said the mob used sharp-edged weapons and sticks to beat the women, between 45 and 50-years of age. "They blamed the women for misfortune in the village and alleged it was their fault that many people here were falling ill," local police inspector Bandana Bakhla said.
Jharkhand's Chief Minister Raghubar Das condemned the killings. "In the age of knowledge, this incident is sorrowful," he said, urging members of society to "ponder over it."
People living in India's impoverished tribal states, like Jharkhand, Assam and Odisha, often resort to the occult and sorcery in an attempt to solve their problems. Most victims are women, but men also fall prey to witch-hunters, despite laws to curb crimes against the accused.
In July, a mob in India's Assam state beheaded a woman, also accused of making people fall ill. Around the same time, a couple and their four children were burnt to death in Odisha for allegedly bringing disease to the village. In the same state, police found the remains of a man set on fire by a mob. He had been accused of sorcery.
More than 2,100 people were murdered between 2010 and 2012 for allegedly practicing witchcraft, according to India's National Crime Records Bureau.
mg/jlw (AFP, dpa)