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Gang rape, ordered by kangaroo court

Suri, Jan. 22: A 20-year-old girl was allegedly gang-raped by at least 13 men at the behest of a kangaroo court in a Birbhum village not more than 25km from Santiniketan for having an affair with a youth from another village.

The alleged atrocity, unheard of in Bengal in recent memory, took place at Subalpur village, which falls under Labhpur police station.

Eleven suspects, including the tribal community’s morol (head) who allegedly ordered the gang rape as punishment, have been arrested, police said.

The mother of the girl said over phone from Suri hospital her daughter knew a youth from another village.

“The youth reached our house on Monday and the villagers came to know of it. They caught him and kept him overnight in a room in another house. Around noon on Tuesday, some villagers came to our house, called my daughter out and told her to accompany them. They also told her that a trial would be held. My husband and I, along with our 15-year-old son, accompanied my daughter,” said the mother.

According to the mother, the youth and her daughter were tied to separate trees in the village square.

“The morol accused my daughter of breaking tribal rules. The morol and villagers close to him said the boy and the girl should pay Rs 25,000 each as fine. The morol also ruled that as my daughter had broken tribal rules, she would be gang-raped by the villagers. My husband, my son and I were driven out. Then they took my daughter to a house and the villagers took turns at assaulting her. My daughter could recognise 13 of them, including the morol, and named them in the FIR,” said the mother.

The police later said that the gang rape took place in the house of the morol, who has been identified as Balai Maddi.

The youth, a mason, was released after he agreed to pay Rs 25,000 within a week.

A police officer said the girl walked home early this morning. “Family members took her to the block hospital in Labhpur this afternoon. After preliminary treatment, the girl went to the police station with her mother and lodged the complaint this evening. After the complaint was lodged, the police admitted her to a district hospital for tests,” a police officer said.

Birbhum SP C. Sudhakar said that on the basis of conversations with doctors, it appeared that the girl was raped. “Our preliminary investigation has revealed that the villagers held a meeting and the morol ordered that the girl be gang-raped,” Sudhakar added.

Subalpur is a tribal village of mostly labourers with some small farmers.

Kangaroo courts, known as shalishi sabhas, operate in some Bengal villages. The erstwhile Left government had made an abortive attempt to give a legal stamp to village gatherings handling civil disputes, not criminal matters.

The West Bengal Block Level Pre-Litigation Conciliation Board Bill was introduced in the Assembly in 2003. But an uproar followed amid allegations that the government was trying to subvert the judiciary and pack such groups with its sympathisers. The bill died a natural death in the absence of a consensus, including within the Left itself.

Septuagenarian Nityananda Hembram, the disham majhi or chief of the Bharat-Jakat Majhi Maroa, a social and cultural organisation of Santhals, said that no morol had been given power to interfere with someone’s personal life.

“This is a most brutal incident. In our tribal community, the will of a woman is respected. What happened in Birbhum is a crime. No tribal custom advocates brutality like rape. According to customs, there is a morol in every tribal village who can call a meeting and give good advice to people and perform rituals,” said Hembram, who is an architect from IIT Kharagpur.