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Police arrest 13 over 'kangaroo court' gang rape

Village elders ordered assault on woman for loving wrong man

Nirmalya Banerjee, Kolkata

January 24, 2014

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Police in India’s West Bengal have arrested 13 men for allegedly gang raping a 20-year-old tribal woman in public on the orders of a village kangaroo court.

Village elders in Subalpur, in Birbhum district, disapproved of a relationship the Santhal tribal woman was having with a man from outside the tribal community, police said.

The accused men including the tribal community head were arrested on Wednesday, the day after the rape, police added.

The woman was admitted to hospital in critical condition.

Her boyfriend “came to our house on Monday night,” the woman’s mother told

“The villagers found out and confined him in another hut. On Tuesday, around noon, they took our daughter away for the trial," she said.

At the trial the headman accused the woman of breaking tribal customs and fined the couple 25,000 rupees (some US$400) each, police said. The man paid the fine but the woman could not pay.

“If the family does not pay, go and enjoy yourselves with the girl,” the village headman reportedly said.

Witnesses said the woman was then gang raped on a bamboo platform in front of other villagers, including women and children.

News of the gang rape has led to renewed outrage and demands for swift justice across a country still reeling from a string of brutal sex assaults against women.

Unofficial courts upholding customs are common in many parts of India. They have been known to mete out severe punishments, including honor killings, in a society where women are treated as second rate citizens. However, such punishments are unheard of in Santhal tribal courts.

Opel Mardi, who heads a Santhal tribal organization, condemned the incident.

“In a tribal society there are provisions for punishment for breaking customs, but not a punishment of this kind," he said.

"This kind of an incident has occurred from ignorance and lack of awareness," he said.

Manas Roy, head of the department of anthropology at Visva Bharati University, in Birbhum district, also expressed shock at the incident.

"The Santhals do organize tribal courts in villages here, but such a judgment is never passed," he said.

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