A 20-year-old tribal woman was allegedly gang-raped in a West Bengal village on the orders of a salishi sabha, the state’s equivalent of khap panchayats (feared for dispensing kangaroo court-style justice), the police said on Wednesday.
The police suspect as many as 12 persons raped the young woman, who herself “lost count” during the brutality she endured on Tuesday at Subalpur village in Birbhum, about 180 km from Kolkata.
News of the vicious gang rape in Birbhum, the home district of President Pranab Mukherjee, shook the state, which is already reeling under a series of sex crimes against women.
Falling in love with a man from outside her community and then failing to cough up Rs. 50,000 fine imposed by the salishi sabha led to the woman being humiliated with the sexual assault, said a police official.
The woman underwent medical test at a hospital on Wednesday morning and is admitted there.
“According to the woman, the salishi sabha summoned her and her beloved on Monday and detained them through the day and night. After her family said they could not pay the fine, the salishi sabha allegedly ordered the mass rape on Tuesday,” said Birbhum superintendent of police C Sudhakar.
The police have arrested 11 persons including Sunil Soren, head of the salishi sabha. Soren allegedly participated in the gang rape. One of the suspects is on the run.
The woman told the police she was not certain how many men sexually assaulted her. “There were more than five. It could even be 10,” she told journalists who visited her at the hospital.
“It’s horrific. They (rapists) are all our neighbours and I call some of them as kaka (uncle) and some others as dada (elder brother) or bhai (brother),” she added.
Her family lodged a complaint with the police on Wednesday afternoon following which the police conducted a raid on the village and made the arrests. A section of villagers opposed the police raid, forcing the administration to rush in more personnel.
The tribal girl’s plight put the Mamata Banerjee government under the spotlight yet again, barely three days after a fitness centre employee was gang-raped in a moving vehicle in the heart of Kolkata.
The fitness centre employee was targeted even as the state grappled with the shocking Madhyamgram rape and murder of a 16-year-old girl towards the end of 2013. The minor was gang-raped twice, her family hounded out of her home and then she was set ablaze at their new residence.
The ruling Trinamool Congress has been battling a series of sex crimes against women over the past two years. West Bengal topped states in crimes against women in 2011 and 2012, according to data from the National Crime Records Bureau.
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