A 20-YEAR-OLD Indian woman was recovering in hospital yesterday after she was gang raped by 13 men on the orders of village elders who wanted to punish her for running off with a man from an outside community.
The woman, who has not been named, was tied to a tree in Labhpur, a remote part of West Bengal's Birbhum district, and gang raped by villagers who were told by elders to "enjoy" themselves.
The victim was warned not to report the attack but was later taken to hospital where she was in a critical condition. She suffered heavy blood loss and her family initially feared she would not survive.
Her condition has stabilised and her 13 alleged rapists have been arrested, police said.
Reports of gang rapes have continued steadily in the past year despite the national outrage which followed the gang rape and murder of a 23-year-old student who was attacked on a bus in Delhi.
Women regularly suffer brutality at the hands of official groups in remote areas, in particular from village panchayats or councils which command great de facto powers and occasionally order illegal punishments.
Local caste or village councils have paraded women naked to punish them for "unauthorised" relationships, executed eloping lovers, and forced rape victims to marry their rapist or accept derisory compensation as a settlement.
Last year a panchayat ordered a six-year-old rape victim to marry the eight-year-old son of her 40-year-old rapist in Rajasthan, while in Hyderabad an 11-year-old rape victim's family was told they must settle their complaint by accepting 1,500 rupees (€17).
In this latest case, which campaigners said was "outrageous", the couple was bound and dragged before the panchayat after the woman's partner, who was not a tribal, visited her family to ask to marry her.
"The relationship was going on for almost five years. When the man visited the woman's home on Monday with the proposal of marriage, villagers spotted him and organised a kangaroo court. During the 'proceedings', the couple were made to sit with hands tied," the superintendent of police C Sudhakar told the BBC.
Elders ordered the gang rape after the woman's family said they could not afford to pay a 25,000 rupee (€293) fine imposed by the panchayat.
Her ordeal follows allegations of police indifference in Calcutta in the case of a teenager who died on New Year's Eve after she was gang raped twice in 24 hours and later set on fire when she refused to withdraw her complaint. (© Daily Telegraph, London)