On Tuesday January 21st, 2013, a twenty-year-old girl was gang raped as per tribal orders for falling in love with a Muslim man from another village. The village council set a fine of €296 on the woman from the Santhal Tribe and the young man, but the family didn’t have the means to pay it. The village leader, Sunil Soren, then ordered her to be “enjoyed” by the men of the village and had her tied to a tree. The woman lost count after ten or more men, some from the same family, continually raped her. Some of the men who took part she considered as neighbors, uncles or brothers. Soren was amongst the abusers. When the ordeal was finally over, she was threatened by the village elder not to file a police report, but her family did so anyway.
It all started when the Muslim man came to the woman’s village in the Birbhum district on Monday to propose to her. Instead, they were both detained and ordered to pay fines. His family was able to pay and he was beaten and then set free. The woman was later sent to the nearby government hospital in serious condition. Her condition has now stabilized.
Most of the villagers deny that this took place and are upset with her family for disgracing their village and supporting her “immoral behavior.” One of the female villagers claimed that she was there the whole time and did not witness the gang rape. She went on to say that if the victim dared to return to the village that she would kill her.
When the West Bengal governor found out about the assault, he brought swift justice. Gov. M.K. Narayanan ordered the rapists to be arrested and given corporal punishment. Thirteen men, including the village elder, have been taken into custody. The Birbhum district police superintendent was relived of his duty as well.
In 2002, there was a similar assault on a thirty year old woman and six of her attackers were sentenced to death. The main culprit’s sentence was reduced to life imprisonment and the other five were later acquitted.
Indian authorities have been struggling to stop sexual violence. In 2012, a 23-year-old student traveling to New Delhi was fatally gang raped. This incident caused an uproar and prompted changes in the ineffective laws on sexual violence. Late last year a 16-year-old girl was raped and murdered. A fitness center employee was gang raped in a moving vehicle. This month in Delhi, a 51-year-old Danish woman asking for directions was beaten and gang raped at knife point. Another reported case mentioned a Polish woman traveling with her two-year-old daughter to the Indian capital that was allegedly drugged and raped by her taxi driver.
These are just the reported cases. Caste-based villages hold tremendous influence in rural India. They have their own court system and issue dikats and punishments for moral violations and other offenses. Some of these punishments include women getting gang raped. Hopefully more of these cases come out and justice is swift and enforced. If not, nothing is going to change.
By: Cheryl Gress