In yet another horrific sexual assault case in India, a 13-year-old girl was raped allegedly on orders from a village council as retaliative punishment for her brother's sexual assault offense.
The attack occurred in Swang Gulgulia Dhoura, an incredibly isolated village in Jharkhand inhabited only by people of India's lowest caste. The victim's brother Harendra Pasi himself drunkenly molested Suguna Devi, a married woman and daughter of the village panchchayat (headman) Ghosal Pasi.
When the father of Harendra (and the victim) approached Ghosal Pasi the next day to discuss and accept a punishment for his son, whether a fine or a beating, the panchayat gave no answer. But according to the New York Times, Ghosal Pasi gave the verdict to Suguna Devi's husband while the victim's father was away at work:
"Ghosal told his son-in-law, 'You do the same thing to his daughter that this man did to your wife,' so he grabbed her and dragged her to the jungle," said Lakshman Prasad Singh, inspector general of the Jharkhand State police.
No one came to the girl's help despite her screaming. When she returned from the forest, her family took her to the closest police station an hour's walk away, where her rape was confirmed.
The police have stated that they are taking the case very seriously and district administration stationed two armed guards outside the victim's hut. Despite claims made by the panchayat's son that he did not actually specifically order his son-in-law to rape the girl, both Ghosal Pasi and his son-in-law have been taken into custody. Harendra, who initially assaulted Suguna Devi has also been arrested.
In tiny isolated villages like Swang Gulgulia Dhoura, village panchayats wield a lot of power in village justice. On top of that Ghosal Pasi was not an elected panchayat, but rather, a powerful man who merely appointed himself as the village head. While other villagers have stated that from now on, they plan to go straight to the police when a crime is committed, it's unrealistic to expect them to immediately and completely forget the panchayat's authority in such matters.
Interestingly enough, last week the Indian Supreme Court ruled that fatwas, or Islamic opinions or decrees, have no legal standing, a move to dismantle Sharia Muslim legal system in India. The court decreed it would be illegal to impose religion-based opinion personal issues if it transgressed Indian law. The court stated (via Times of India):
"Fatwas touching upon the rights of an individual at the instance of rank strangers may cause irreparable damage and therefore, would be absolutely uncalled for. It shall be in violation of basic human rights…"
Many claim that the dismantling of Sharia court is being hailed as a victory, particularly for Muslim women. It certainly is a victory in many respects, but it obviously does not do much for non-Muslim women in India who continue to face sexual assault, like the Swang Gulgulia Dhoura victim or Suguna Devi.
India's outlawing of Muslim fatwas does not even begin to address the "irreparable damage" of violence against women perpetrated by non-Muslim village authorities, who, in similar fashion exercise their power in direct "violation of basic human rights." Women in India continue to face rape and murder (in general but also) as punishment, and it is women who are in isolated, uneducated, lower-caste villages like Swang Gulgulia Dhoura who are at the most risk.
Image via AP.