On July 30, 23-year old Meenakshi Kumari and her 15-year-old sister were sentenced to be gang-raped by a group of village elders in the Baghpat district. The sisters weren’t convicted of any crimes, rather their sentence was punishment for their brother’s elopement. Vice reports:

[The sisters] were told that their faces would be blackened and they would be raped and paraded naked in front of their neighbors by a council based in Uttar Pradesh, northern India. Kumari then petitioned the Indian Supreme Court to protect her and her family, which is of the Dalit caste — the lowest in India’s hierarchy. Members of the caste were previously referred to as “untouchables.” The word Dalit means “oppressed.”

The woman their brother eloped with is of the higher Jat caste.

The sisters’ case has obviously sparked international outrage. Amnesty International began a petition decrying the sentence and demanding justice for the sisters. Amnesty notes that the punishment was handed down by an “unelected, all-male” council. Those councils operate outside of the official legal system, yet they remain deeply influential in parts of India.

Via Amnesty:

“Sumit Kumar, another brother of Meenakshi says that members of the Jat caste are powerful members of the village council, ‘the Jat decision is final’.

His family fears for their lives if they return.

Meenakshi has filed a petition with the Supreme Court asking for protection, and her father has lodged a complaint with two national bodies saying that both his family has been harassed not just by the family of the eloped woman (who are of the dominant caste and, therefore influential), but also by the police.”

India’s Supreme Court routinely throws out decisions made by village councils (called khap courts), which they have declared illegal, so the Supreme Court remains the sisters’ best chance for protection. Amnesty told Vice that the “government...has an urgent duty to keep this family safe.”

Image via Getty.