India village council accused of ordering rape

NEW DELHI — A 14-year-old girl was dragged into a forest and raped on the orders of a village council in remote eastern India in retaliation for a sex assault blamed on her brother, her family and police said Friday.

Jitendra Singh, a top local police official, said three men have been arrested. They include the village headman and the main suspect, identified as the husband of the woman who was allegedly molested by the victim’s brother. The victim’s brother has also been arrested.

The victim’s mother told CNN-IBN news channel that she pleaded with the council and other villagers when they ordered the rape but no one listened.

“We kept begging them. We begged with folded hands but they would not listen. They dragged her away to the forest,” she said.

The attack took place after midnight on Sunday in a small village in Jharkhand state’s Bokaro district.

“They attacked her in retaliation and we are taking this case very seriously,” Singh said, adding that police expect to complete the investigation and file charges in the next few days.

Across much of rural India, deeply conservative local councils wield great power. They can pass decrees on any subject they choose — from how women should dress to whether young lovers deserve to live or die. They usually enforce strict social norms about marriage and gender roles.

In January, a council of elders in West Bengal state had ordered the gang rape of a 20-year-old woman as punishment for falling in love with the man from a different community.

The village councils are often the only practical means of delivering justice in areas where local governments are either too far away or too ineffective to settle disputes. Their power is often derived from the fact that they can order that villagers be ostracized for ignoring their decrees.

In some of the most extreme cases, the councils have sanctioned so-called honor killings, usually against men and women suspected of out-of-wedlock sex or marrying outside the community.

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