Police in India’s West Bengal state have held 13 people in connection with a gang rape of a woman allegedly on orders of village elders who objected to her relationship with a man.
The 20-year-old woman has been admitted to a hospital in a critical condition.
Unofficial courts in India’s villages often sanction killings of couples deemed to have violated local codes.Police said the incident was prompted by the relationship between a tribal woman and a non-tribal man belonging to a nearby village in Birbhum district.
Tribal or caste-based village councils made up of local elders wield great influence over life in large swathes of rural India and often mete out punishments for offences deemed to contravene local traditions and mores.
“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,” Birbhum police chief C Sudhakar told the BBC.
He said the headman of the woman’s village fined the couple 25,000 rupees ($400; £240) for “the crime of falling in love”.
The man paid up, but the woman’s family were unable to pay.
The headman, who is a distant relative of the woman, then allegedly ordered the rape, Mr Sudhakar said.
“Her family could not pay, so go enjoy the girl and have fun,” the headman reportedly told villagers, according to a complaint filed by the woman’s family.
Police have arrested 13 men, including the headman, in connection with the incident.
Although the incident took place on Monday night, the family of the woman gathered courage to go to the police on Wednesday afternoon. The woman was admitted to a hospital only on Wednesday night.
She is being currently cared for by a five-member medical team in hospital, local officials say.