Indian woman gang raped allegedly on orders of village council

13 men arrested including village chief accused of issuing order

Indian police personnel escort men (tied with rope), who are accused of a gang rape, to a court at Birbhum district in the eastern Indian state of West Bengal. Photograph: Reuters

Indian police personnel escort men (tied with rope), who are accused of a gang rape, to a court at Birbhum district in the eastern Indian state of West Bengal. Photograph: Reuters

Thu, Jan 23, 2014, 22:01

Police in India’s eastern Bengal state have arrested 13 men for gang raping a 20-year-old tribal woman, allegedly on orders from their village elders.

The shocking, night-long ordeal occurred on Monday in the remote Subalpur village, 240km west of state capital Kolkata, after the girl was suspected of having an affair with a Muslim man from a neighbouring hamlet.

Police said the village council imposed a fine of €296 on the young woman, who belongs to the Santhal tribe, and the young man, but her penury-ridden family was unable to pay this amount.

Thereafter, the woman and her alleged lover were tied to two trees and the village council ordered her to be gang raped.

“The morol [village head] ordered that I be ‘enjoyed’ by the men of the village,” she told the police from her hospital bed.

Following the head’s orders, she was dragged to a nearby mud house and the assault on her began almost immediately.

“At least 10-12 people, including some members of a single family, continuously raped me,” she said. “I lost count of how many times I was raped.”

When the nightmare ended, she was warned by the village council not to publicise her ordeal, but her family filed a police case. She was then taken to a government hospital in the Birbhum district, where doctors said her condition was serious.

The young Muslim man was freed after being beaten and having agreed to pay the €296 fine imposed on him within a week.

“We arrested all the 13 men, including the village chief who ordered the gang rape,” said the local police superintendent Birbhum Sudhakar.

“The accused have been produced in court which remanded them to jail custody.”

Many villagers, however, deny the horrific incident and are furious with the victim for reporting the matter to the police and bringing shame upon them by her “immoral behaviour”.

Tribal or caste-based village councils comprising elders exert enormous influence in rural India. They issue diktats and punishments for moral and other offences, much like kangaroo courts.

The incident in Bengal echoes a similar attack ordered on a 30-year-old woman by the village council in neighbouring Pakistan’s Punjab province in 2002. Six men were sentenced to death in a case that attracted international publicity, but five were later acquitted. The main culprit’s sentence was reduced to life imprisonment.