A five-year-old child was beheaded, allegedly as part of an occult ritual involving human sacrifice, in the southern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh. As the incident came to light, villagers caught the suspect and set him on fire.

The boy's death was discovered when his mother went looking for him. Some neighbours had seen Tirumala Rao, who lives in the vicinity, take the child. The mother found her child's headless body in Rao's house. Blood had been sprinkled all over the place.

Police have formally registered a complaint and the child's body has been taken to hospital for a post-mortem. Rao is said to be recovering in a hospital after villagers thrashed him and set him ablaze.

''This is a first-of-its-kind incident in Prakasam district. Once he recovers, he (Rao) will be subjected to questioning after an examination of his mental condition by a psychiatrist,'' said superintendent of police Srikanth, who goes by a single name.

The incident stoked tensions in the area and drew sharp condemnation. "Such things might have happened in these parts during British times but they are uncommon in independent India, though animal sacrifices are often performed to appease villages deities,'' Seshaiah, a member of Rationalists Association of India who also goes by one name, told The Hindu daily.