Social activist and Magsaysay award-winner Mahasweta Devi, who has worked extensively with the adivasis in the State’s Jangalmahal region, was “shocked and concerned” to learn of the recent incident in which three women were allegedly killed by villagers, after the y were declared to be witches.

“Years ago, the practice of killing women after declaring them to be witches used to be very common. But for some time, I hadn’t heard of a woman being killed this way. The matter must be investigated seriously — what suddenly occurred in that village to have triggered this incident,” Mahasweta Devi told The Hindu on Thursday.

The bodies of three women, who had been allegedly lynched to death by villagers of Dubrajpur in the Daspur police thana area of Paschim Medinipur district on Tuesday, were recovered on Wednesday.

“I have worked among adivasis in the region, and it is unfortunate that belief in practices like witchcraft persists. However, incidents of women being killed after being declared witches had declined,” she said.

The revival of the ancient superstitious practice of killing women after branding them as witches is a matter of serious concern, she said, adding that she couldn’t think of any reason for it.

Though the octogenarian Mahasweta Devi cannot travel, she said that she will consult some of her associates who are working in the Jangalmahal region for details of the incident. Before she became a reputed novelist, Mahasweta Devi worked as a journalist, and was so moved by the plight of the women who became victims of witch-hunting that she had worked on a special edition of the paper that focussed on the issue.

“The issue of belief in witchcraft and the consequences it can have for women is a very serious one. In my life and work among the tribals in Jangalmahal, I have tried to generate awareness on the need to discard the practice,” she said.

The only way to make sure that the practice is completely done away with will be to educate the people regarding it. There are many NGOs working in the region on several issues. If they take the initiative and organise public rallies where the matter is discussed, it may have some effect, she said.