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5 men arrested and accused of carrying out a ritual human sacrifice at a Hindu temple in India

New Delhi — Police in India have arrested five people in connection with the 2019 murder of a woman at a Hindu temple in what they say was a case of ritual human sacrifice. A Shanti Shaw, 64, was beheaded with a machete at the Kamakhya Temple in Assam state's capital Guwahati as an "offering" to the temple goddess, police said.

Shaw's decapitated body was found in June 2019, but only identified a month later by her son. She had travelled to the temple with a Hindu "godman" and two other women from another state to attend an annual fair.

Navratri Festival  In India
An October 10, 2021 file photo shows Hindu devotees arriving to offer prayers at the Kamakhya Temple in Guwahati, India. Anuwar Hazarika/NurPhoto/Getty

Police had been investigating since then but reported no significant evidence until a special team of the Assam Police managed to identify the alleged killers using technical data linking them to the victim.

Guwahati police commissioner Diganta Barah told reporters Tuesday that 12 people were involved in the woman's murder, with five accused of planning the killing.

Pradeep Pathak, 52, the primary suspect, stands accused of orchestrating the killing to mark the anniversary of his brother's death.

"During investigation, we found this was a case of human sacrifice to please Maa Kamakhya (a Hindu goddess)," said Barah.

Pathak's brother died 11 years earlier, and he allegedly wanted to perform a Hindu ritual on the date of his death in memory of his brother, according to the police chief.

"The accused apparently believed that the sacrifice would appease the soul of the deceased," said Barah.

Pathak and four other suspects between the ages of 50 and 62 were arrested over the past week in two Indian states.

Police remain on the lookout for seven of their accomplices, Barah said.

Human sacrifices are not unknown in India, where official data show there were more than 100 reported cases between 2014 and 2021.

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