Falling in love with someone from a different community apparently warrants the punishment of rape, according to village elders in India. Police arrested 13 men after a 20-year-old woman says she was gang-raped on the orders of a village council, whose members objected to her relationship. She was hospitalized on Thursday in serious condition.
The woman told police she was assaulted on Monday night at a mud house in West Bengal, India. Her male companion was tied up in the village square while she was attacked, and she says she lost count of how many men raped her. All suspects involved, including the village chief who ordered the "punishment," were taken into custody, according to the Birbhum district's superintendent of police, C. Sudhakar.
The victim was in a relationship with a non-tribal man from another village for nearly five years. He visited her home on Monday with the intent of proposing, after which villagers came to take them to a "kangaroo court," or a mock, unauthorized trial. The couple was fined 25,000 rupees each ($400). When the woman was unable to pay, the headman allegedly ordered the gang-rape.
The family was allegedly threatened, told that they couldn't leave the area, and was stopped from going to a hospital. It wasn't until Wednesday that they escaped to take the case to police. In a complaint filed by her family, the village chief reportedly told people:
"Her family could not pay, so go enjoy the girl and have fun."
It's not the first time such an incident has occurred in the area. In recent years, another girl from a tribal community was forced to walk naked through several villages after having an affair. India remains in the spotlight after a string of reported violent crimes against women, including the alleged gang-rape of Danish tourist after she asked for directions.
Village councils, known as khap panchayats, are popular for settling community issues ranging from property rights to the way women dress, but their members are unelected, and rulings carry no legality. Advocates have been pushing for a law penalizing these councils and the Indian Supreme Court deemed them illegal. Sadly, the condemnations still haven't stunted the often abusive power of these local bodies.