Twenty-one persons including eight women were on Sunday arrested for allegedly assaulting a 70-year-0ld woman on charges of practicing witchcraft in Samahla village of Sarkaghat in Mandi district of Himachal Pradesh, around 140 km from here.

Deputy Superintendent of Police, Sarkaghat Chander Paul said all the accused including the real sister of the victim, who were named in the FIR, have been arrested by police.

The accused had allegedly assaulted the victim on 6 November and was paraded in the village with a garland of shoes with her face blackened with ink. But no one had filed a complaint in this regard at that time.

The villagers believed that the women practiced witchcraft and had brought misfortune on them.

“The victim was allegedly worshipping another deity that wasn’t the presiding deity of the village and it might have led to villagers including her relatives to suspect her of witchcraft,” Paul told The Statesman.

He said even the daughter of the victim in her complaint had made similar allegations and had claimed that the villagers had tried to throw her out of her home a few days back too. The accused had already barged into the victim’s house who lives alone and had tried to threw her out of the village but failed.

“We traced the woman after the video went viral on 9 November and has recorded the statement of the victim and also of her daughter who lives in Hamirpur along with her family,” he added.

The incident had even prompted Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur to issue a statement on Saturday and he had directed the police to take strict against the accused.

In the viral video, the accused were seen chanting religious slogans of local deity with the beating of drums and bells while two youths were pulling her to parade her in the village.

A garland of shoes was put around her neck by the accused and her face was covered with black ink.

The victim had now confined herself to her house and she hadn’t ventured out of her room since the day she was attacked and paraded publicly.

Meanwhile, there were reports that the victim, whose husband used to work in the Indian Army and was widowed at the age of 25, was being harassed for the property.

As the woman didn’t have any son, her relatives and locals were eyeing her property and they allegedly wanted to evict her from the village with the ulterior motive of grabbing her property.

Though police didn’t confirm the claims, DSP Paul said he would meet her daughter and record her statement to ascertain whether property dispute or property angle was the main objective behind the entire incident.

A case has been registered in this regard and further investigations in the matter are on.