Jan. 23 (Bloomberg) -- India police arrested a village leader who allegedly ordered the gang rape of a 20-year-old woman in West Bengal state after she admitted to having an affair with a man from another community.
Sunil Soren, the village elder, demanded the sexual assault after her family failed to pay a 50,000 rupee ($807) penalty for the illicit relationship, Prasanta Chowdhury, additional superintendent of police in Birbhum district, about a 117 miles (188 kilometers) north of Kolkata, said by phone. Police yesterday arrested 12 other men accused of taking part in the rape, which stemmed from a local court proceeding unrecognized by any laws, he said.
“The crime was led by the unofficial head-man of the tribal community,” Chowdhury said. “In much of rural India, one man is simply recognized by the community as the village leader, sometimes by age, sometimes by wealth or education. It’s not uncommon. However, this behavior certainly is.”
India has tightened laws criminalizing violence against women as it struggles to overcome a reputation as a nation unsafe for females. The U.K. issued an advisory last week to women traveling to India after a 51-year-old Danish tourist was gang-raped on Jan. 14 in central Delhi, a short drive from the country’s presidential palace.
The West Bengal Commission for Women ordered an investigation into the gang rape and called for the “harshest punishment,” The Times of India newspaper reported, citing chairwoman Sunanda Mukherjee. A phone call today went unanswered at the organization, which was established to ensure that the constitutional and legal rights of women are properly implemented.
A woman was raped in India every 21 minutes on average in 2012, according to the most recent National Crime Records Bureau data, statistics that police say reflect increased confidence among females to report attacks. The country saw a 35 percent drop in foreign female tourist arrivals in the first three months of last year, according to a study published in April by the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry in India.
“This is a very isolated case,” said Biplab Mukherji, a coordinator at the Kolkata-based group Masum, which researches police, torture and government crimes. “I expect many other tribal groups will come forward and denounce this behavior.”
The rape occurred on the evening of Jan. 20 after the village council summoned the victim and her partner for a meeting. The victim told police she was held captive for more than 12 hours, during which she was raped repeatedly by people from her community whom she had respected, Chowdhury said.
The victim was admitted to a local hospital and is in stable condition, he said, while declining to elaborate on her health as the investigation continues. The attackers were protected by other members of the community when police attempted to arrest the accused, forcing police to call for reinforcements, he said.
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