Indian woman raped by order of village court

BY Sarah Sheffer  January 23, 2014 at 5:14 PM EDT

Police have arrested 13 men in India’s West Bengal state in connection with the gang rape of a 20-year-old woman.

The rape was allegedly ordered by village elders who form a council known locally as the “salishi sabha” or “grievance committee.” The attack was meant to punish the young woman for her plans to marry a man from another community, according to Indian police reports.

The ordeal began when a man named Khaliq Sheikh asked for the young woman’s hand in marriage. She accepted his proposal.

But the salishi sabha saw the move as a violation of local codes. Village chief Balai Mardi reportedly had the man detained and asked the couple to pay Rs. 25,000 ($400) each for the infraction.

The man was able to pay the fine and was released, but the woman’s family was not. She was forcibly taken and reportedly raped at the command of the elders through Monday night.

“I lost count of how many men took turns to rape me. They were more than five. It could even be 10,” the woman told journalists, according to the Hindustan Times. “It’s horrific. They (rapists) are all our neighbors and I call some of them as kaka (uncle) and some others as dada (elder brother) or bhai (brother).”

The woman’s family brought her to the hospital in critical condition on Wednesday. She is now stable but traumatized, doctors say.

Village councils are common in rural India. The councils enforce strict, traditional codes of conduct. Among other concerns, village elders may worry about claims on communal land should a woman marry outside of the community.

But this time, the abuses of the kangaroo court were brought to justice.

“We arrested all the 13 men, including the village chief who ordered the gang rape. The accused have been produced in court which remanded them to jail custody,” Birbhum’s Superintendent of Police, C. Sudhakar, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

India is in the process of tightening its anti-rape laws, especially since the high-profile rape of a 23-year-old student on a New Delhi bus in December 2012 sparked massive protests across the country.