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Indian woman gang-raped as punishment over decision to marry outside her village

Indian protesters hold candles during a 2012 rally in New Delhi after the cremation of a woman who was gang-raped and died of her injuries two weeks later.
Indian protesters hold candles during a 2012 rally in New Delhi after the cremation of a woman who was gang-raped and died of her injuries two weeks later. Caballero-Reyonlds/AFP/Getty Images

A young Indian woman in West Bengal was gang-raped this week per order of a local village council, in order to punish her for planning to marry a man from outside the village.

Indian police said 13 suspects were arrested Wednesday and charged with rape, wrongful confinement, verbal threats and assault, according to The New York Times on Jan. 23.

The Indian woman has been admitted to a local hospital where she is in stable condition. The episode began on Monday when a man from a different village, Khaliq Sheikh, asked the unidentified young woman to marry him.

Police said she accepted his proposal, and when village chief Balai Mardi heard about it, he quickly sought to block the marriage. Local media accounts say locals tied Sheikh and the victim to trees in the village square on Tuesday.

The two were accused of breaking tribal rules, said Suraja Pratap Yadav, a police officer in the Birbhum district of West Bengal in eastern India. Mardi ordered the couple to pay fines totaling 27,000 rupees, or about $442. Mr. Sheikh paid his portion and was released.

But when the family of the young woman refused to pay, Mr. Mardi ordered villagers "to enjoy her", according to a police officer who spoke on condition of anonymity.

She was then repeatedly raped in Mardi's mud thatch hut, according to the local media reports. Yadav said that the village chief then warned the woman and her family that if they reported the rapes to the police, the village elders would burn down their house.

However, they ignored the threats and reported the alleged crimes to the police anyway. Within hours authorities arrested Mr. Mardi and 12 other suspects.

Village councils are said to be common in rural India, particularly among tribal populations which are among the poorest groups in the country.

These councils typically enforce strict codes of conduct. They often fear that marriages to village outsiders will dilute communal land claims, among other concerns.

Couples who dare defy the tribal marital codes are sometimes murdered. Sunil Soren, a tribal leader from a nearby village, said via telephone that situations like this case, "pollute the minds of youngsters."

Soren claimed that his people have a great deal of respect for their women, but that Sheikh and the young woman were in an "objectionable situation", and, "In the excitement, some wrong things happened".

The highly publicized gang-rape of a 23-year-old student on a bus in New Delhi in December 2012 prompted protests and governmental changes to laws.

The maximum prison sentence for rape was doubled to 20 years, and special courts were created to prosecute cases more quickly. Acid attacks and voyeurism also became specific crimes in the eyes of the law.

Whether any of those changes have improved women's safety in India remains unclear.

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