All-male village council sentences sisters 'to be raped' in Indian state
Published 04/09/2015 | 02:30
Two sisters in an Indian village have been 'sentenced to rape'.
Local unelected authorities, also known as the Khap Panchayat, reportedly ordered the sexual assault of the sisters from the low Dalit caste (historically called 'untouchables') as a punishment for their elder brother marrying a woman from the upper Jat caste.
One of the sisters, Meenakshi Kumari (23) said her brother fell in love with the woman back in their home village of Bhagpat, and the couple eloped to Delhi in March.
The woman's family were furious and began to make unannounced midnight visits to their house to harass his sisters.
Meenakshi said they told the family: "You've spoilt our honour by marrying our daughter, so now we will ruin your honour by raping your daughters".
The all-male village council in Uttar Pradesh state, 30 miles from the capital Delhi, then ruled that the Dalit family should be dishonoured to "avenge" their brother's supposed crime.
Meenakshi and her sister were told they would be paraded naked with their faces blackened through the streets. The family contacted the police and officials for help, but were rejected.
It meant they were forced to abandon their home and flee to another part of India. They're still there, in hiding. And though village elders have reportedly now denied the order for them to be raped in revenge (while others have questioned the authenticity of the story) the sisters have petitioned the country's Supreme Court to be protected.
The news has shocked the western world, but in rural parts of India, cases like this are common and have been for centuries.
We're only hearing about them now because the international media has created a 'rape debate', following the horrific 2012 gang rape and murder of Nirbhaya, a medical student in New Delhi.
That tragedy prompted widespread protests for improved women's rights, and brought violence against women into the spotlight.
But behind closed doors, things have got worse for women in India. Parents who allowed girls some level of freedom have now become fearful and strict, under the guise of protecting their daughters.
While rape debates may have gone mainstream in the media, the general population largely holds women responsible for 'inviting' such crimes.
Poor rural women may speak about their ordeals, but in middle and upper classes, family honour routinely silences victims.
In India, expressing love is still a major taboo - no matter what they show in Bollywood films. It's even worse if the one you love differs in caste and income. If they differ in religion, lives are in danger.