IMAGINE! Elders order gang rape.



Indian police said Thursday they have arrested 13 people
after a 20-year-old village woman was allegedly gang-raped on orders from
tribal elders who objected to

her relationship with a man.

The attack again highlighted India’s dismal record on
preventing sexual violence, after the fatal gang-rape of a student in New Delhi
in December 2012 sparked protests and unleashed seething public anger.
Politicians denounced the latest attack as “outrageous”,
while women’s groups said it showed how little things have changed for women
since 2012 in a deeply patriarchal nation.
The incident took place Tuesday in a remote village in West
Bengal state, where the unmarried woman from the Santhal tribal group was
suspected of a relationship with a Muslim man from another village.
The elders, who comprise the informal village council,
initially fined her family 25,000 rupees (400 dollars) but they were too poor
to pay, district police superintendent C. Sudhakar told AFP.
“The girl was gang-raped for having an affair with a youth
of another community and failing to pay the fine which was imposed by the
village council,” he said.
“All 13 men, including the chief of the village council, who
were named in the complaint before the police, were arrested,” Sudhakar said.
The woman, her head wrapped in a scarf, confirmed the attack
when confronted by television crews, saying softly: “They raped me … all of
them were my father’s age.”
Tribal or caste-based village councils composed of male
elders exert enormous influence over rural life, particularly in northern
India. They often issuing diktats and punishments for moral and other perceived
offences.
The incident echoes a brutal attack on a woman in
neighbouring Pakistan in 2002 on the orders of a village council, to avenge her
12-year-old brother’s alleged impropriety with a woman from a rival clan.
‘Tied to trees’
This week’s incident happened in the village of Subalpur,
240 kilometres (149 miles) west of the state capital Kolkata, after the couple
were found together.
“The head of the village council held an urgent meeting in
the village square on Tuesday when the girl and her lover were called,”
Sudhakar said.
“The girl and her lover were tied to two separate trees and
fined 25,000 rupees each for having an affair,” he said.
“As the parents of the girl, who were also present at the
meeting, expressed their inability to pay the fine, the head of the village
council ordered that she should be raped by the villagers as punishment.”
The man was freed after he agreed to pay the fine within a
week, but the woman was taken to a shed where the attack was carried out, he
said.
The woman, who was recovering in a local hospital in Birbhum
district, identified to police all 13 attackers. They were all denied bail on
Thursday after appearing in court in the nearby town of Bolpur.
Lawmakers from all sides of politics branded the incident
“inhuman and completely outrageous,” while some called for the men to be
swiftly prosecuted and sentenced to death.
“In a democratic country, based upon the rule of law, no
vigilantism can be permitted,” Information Minister Manish Tewari told
reporters.
But the incident shows the level of control that unelected
male councils, known as “khap panchayats”, still have over women in India’s
deeply patriarchal society, women’s groups said.
“This West Bengal case shows the yawning gap between our
constitution and our society,” Kavita Krishnan, secretary of the All India
Progressive Women’s Association, told AFP.
“It is not only in remote rural areas, such mentality exists
in metros like Delhi. The seeds are embedded deeply in our society and our
caste.”
In the same district four years ago, a teenage girl from a
local tribe was paraded naked through the streets for the same reason,
according to the Press Trust of India news agency.
Last month India marked the first anniversary of the death
of the 23-year-old student who was gang-raped in New Delhi on a moving bus, an
attack that sent shockwaves across the nation.
Despite tougher laws and efforts to change attitudes to
women across India, the number of reported sex crimes continues to rise.
Earlier this month, a Danish woman was allegedly gang-raped
and robbed in New Delhi after she became lost on her way back to her hotel. Six
men have been arrested over that attack.
What should be done to these Elders?
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