Wednesday, 12 March 2014


Tribal elders ordered a 20-year-old woman to be raped in public by up to 12 men for an 'unauthorised' relationship, police say
Indian police personnel escort men who are accused of a gang-rape to a court at Birbhum, India.
Indian police personnel escort men who are accused of a gang-rape to a court at Birbhum, India. Photograph: Reuters
A 20-year-old woman has been raped in public by as many as 12 men on the orders of tribal elders in a village in eastern India, according to local police.
The attack, in Birbhum district about 120 miles from Kolkata, was a punishment for an “unauthorised” relationship with a man from another village and the woman's subsequent failure to pay a 50,000 rupee (£490) fine, local media reports said.
“According to the woman, the [village head] summoned her and her [lover] on Monday and detained them through the day and night. After her family said they could not pay the fine, the [head] allegedly ordered the mass rape on Tuesday,” police superintendant C Sudhakar told The Hindustan Times newspaper.
Eleven men have been arrested so far, including the village head. The victim remains in hospital. She has told local reporters she lost count of her attackers, who appear to have included several of her neighbours.
India has been hit by a wave of sexual violence – particularly gang rapes – in recent years. Last week a 51-year-old tourist in Delhi was raped by at least five men while walking back to her hotel. Several other similar attacks on foreigners had hit headlines over previous months.
The gang rape and murder of a 23-year-old in December 2012 prompted grief and outrage across the country, with thousands taking to the streets in protests demanding tougher laws, better policing and a shift in cultural attitudes. The United Nations asked India, the world's second most populous country, to ensure security for women. But although prison terms for rape have been stiffened, stalking made a criminal offence and gender sensitivity programmes introduced for some police officers, little appears to have changed on the ground.
The state of West Bengal, where this most recent attack took place, appears a particular black spot. Last month a worker at a gym was abducted and raped by five men in a truck.
In October, a woman was raped twice by the same group of men, once as she returned from a police station where she had recorded a statement about the first attack, and was then set on fire. She eventually died of her injuries.
West Bengal is governened by the Trinamool Congress party (TMC), which has been under fire for failing to halt the rising violence against women.
Derek O'Brien, a TMC parliamentarian, promised “swift action ... zero tolerance", in a message on Twitter on Thursday.
The causes of the wave of sexual violence – and its extent – are hotly debated.
Many commentators say it is a consequence of the efforts of a growing number of women, even in remote areas, to claim basic freedoms denied for centuries. Others point to India's acute gender imbalance, tenacious caste system and entrenched patriarchal culture. Conservatives have blamed "western influences", women's clothing and even fast food.
Informal village courts run by local male elders, such as that which ordered this most recent attack, are common across much of rural India and are frequently responsible for inflicting cruel, sometimes lethal, punishments for supposed social transgressions such as marrying without their prior consent. Such courts also frequently oblige relatives to take violent action to restore the “honour” of a community.

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