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Indian Woman Gang-Raped on Orders from Elders

Indian Woman Gang-Raped on Orders from Elders

In rural India, social and class divisions can be very stark, especially when it comes to relationships. Women and men alike are expected to maintain romantic relationships within their own social groups, and premarital sex is strongly frowned upon in many regions. In cases where people are accused of overstepping the line, tribal councils known as salishi sabha step in — although they have no legal authority, their words are taken seriously in communities where people believe in respecting their elders.

This has led to tragedy in multiple cases — such as that of a woman who was forced to walk naked in her village as punishment for an illicit relationship, and that of a 2009 double suicide committed by a Muslim woman and her Hindu husband after they were ordered to annul their marriage or face death — and it did again in early January, when a young woman was gang-raped on orders from her tribal council, a group of her elders, by men whom she described as friends and neighbors.

“I have lost count of how many men took turns to rape me. They were more than five. It could even be 10 [note: 13 men have been arrested in connection with the crime so far],” said the woman. ”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).”

Why? For the crime of engaging in a romantic relationship outside her tribal affiliation. As a member of the Santhal tribal group, she was expected to keep her romantic relationships within the tribe, and she was dating a non-tribal man, a Muslim who was purportedly planning to propose marriage to her. When he arrived at her home with an offer of marriage, other members of the tribe saw him, and the tribal elders met in a council where the victims were forced to sit with their hands tied during a mock trial, which ended in a sentence of a fine of $400 each. The man was able to pay his share of the fine and was released, but she couldn’t afford it, so instead, the council invited the men of the tribe to “enjoy” her.

Next, despite the fact that she was injured and reeling from the crime, the council threatened her with further penalties for dishonoring her community and pressured her to refrain from reporting the rape to the police. It wasn’t until two days later that she was able to access a police station, and medical attention. The news of the crime quickly spread across India and the world, bringing back painful reminders of a brutal and fatal 2012 gang rape and highlighting the ongoing problem of tribal councils, vigilante justice and rape in some rural Indian communities.

According to Al Jazeera, such councils are common in rural India, and while they operate outside the law, thus far it appears that the Indian government has had trouble intervening to protect young women and girls in India. While cases like this one attract international attention for their brutality, issues within police forces and government agencies create stumbling blocks when it comes to removing officials who aren’t acting swiftly to condemn such crimes.

Unfortunately, the Western media also tend to paint a picture of a hopelessly corrupt, backwards India, stressing “mud huts” and the caste system heavily to create an image of a country that may be irredeemable, rather than one where social progress is propelling the country forward and many people are working within India to fight the authority of tribal councils and improve rural life for women and girls.

While such crimes are undoubtedly a significant social issue in India, the depiction of India as a country mired in the inability to progress is grossly incorrect; as evidenced by the fact that gang rapes such as these are met by large-scale protests including people of all genders organizing in rural communities and larger cities and towns to speak out about crimes against women.

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Photo credit: Christian Haugen.

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155 comments

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12:16AM PDT on May 18, 2014

Given a good name,a family nick name,and a birth order name. My husband's family was large.My m-i-l was the youngest.My father-in-law refused dowry even though he was not wealthy. My M-i-L went to college even though they married in 1947.She was very traditional.She never wore anything but a sari. My father in law wore a dhoti,kurt a,and shawl. Our children address ed the neighbors as "Uncle Thomas " or "Aunty Karen". They were small and we met the neighbors and would say,"this is Uncle Tom" ."
"Can You say hello to Uncle Tom"? This was normal with the Indian community.Within weeks,they were fine.So"uncle,bhai,Aunty,all meant a formal part of the community."It still didn't mean mean real closeness unless we shared a brother/sister ceremony which we did do with one select family but not others. But,for that woman,she could have expected a certain amount of trust and that was now totally gone,especially with peer groups,namely,the bhais.

But mud huts? You can live in downtown Pune,which has 7,000,000 people, have a family of 4,1 room,a curtain,TV, 90sq ft, a common toilet area, have 2 children in private school,both parents working, and still,yes,it's mud.

11:51PM PDT on May 17, 2014

To all of you women and especially Lisette R._Please stop making India sound like a ell hole where women are kept chained in the back of the mud hut ,allowed to go out only once or twice a year. It's not like that.I've been to Delhi and Agra and Mumbai.I've traveled by train and by plain from Pune to Mumbai. I've been in a Haveli-which is a mansion, the three story kind the Maharajas owned where the floors were finished in fresh cow dung once a year,and I've stayed at the Oberoi Hotel in Delhi.I've also lived in Kolkata and I can assure you you don't understand what the lady in question meant when she was discussing the men she called Bhai,kaka, and Dada.I forget now which terms she used.They are different in every part of India and depend if the man is considered to be related matrilineally or patrilineally.I am married to a Bengali but we also mixed with the Maharashtrian crowd so I learned several forms depending upon whom I was addressing. But the most important point is,is the person older than you your self are?(One day is enough). Then you must add the suffix "da" for a male or "di"
for a female.This indicates "older brother " or "older sister." My youngest child never called her brother and sister by name.She called them Dada and Didi.When they get older and the next generation is born.they are known as Mashi and Pishi- M+P lines for aunts,and Kaku and Kakima-M+P Uncles. And ind large families which was frequent,there might be 7 sister and 4 brothers.Each was

8:30AM PDT on May 14, 2014

Well said Karen H.

11:49AM PDT on May 13, 2014

While such crimes are undoubtedly a significant social issue in India, the depiction of India as a country mired in the inability to progress is grossly incorrect . to a point yes it well maybe but people judge by what they hear or see or both . and when you hear about something like this happening with great consistency and only the odd one seems to be prosecuted what do you expect ? if it only happens once that is too often .and no one ever seems to be punished , except the women . like in this happening , if the man couldn't have paid his share of the fine , would the "elders?" have offered him to the men of the village ? sorry but so many of the customs are backward and paternal and really have no place in the world today .and anyone wh0 who thinks they should be should be shared by the elders as well.

8:21AM PST on Feb 12, 2014

Then we allow this thinking into our country as we give them refuge and a chunk of our social safety net, or what there is of it!?! How do we screen these people?

7:55AM PST on Feb 7, 2014

Helga G has a point that “These are old men who don't like change. Most of all, they hate the thought of one of ‘their’ girls marrying outside of the group”
That doesn’t apply just to India. We see it here in the U.S. where people are outraged that “their girls” are marrying outside their religion or race. Or, God forbid, wanting to marry someone of her own gender. That outrage doesn’t always manifest in rape, but the hate is there just the same.
Until women are treated with respect and not as “property”, we will continue to have this problem. Perhaps it’s time women stopped taking a husband’s last name as her own—why does she have to relinquish her identity when she marries?

5:54AM PST on Feb 7, 2014

Brutal, disgusting, subhuman savages!

2:32AM PST on Feb 7, 2014

Vraiment terrible !

8:50AM PST on Feb 1, 2014

I cannot believe that these men truly believe that their actions are noble.

4:21AM PST on Feb 1, 2014

Thanks for sharing.

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