A heinous crime took an even more tragic turn after the parents of a Jharkhand teen sought justice for the gang-rape of their 16-year-old daughter. Some 20 men were accused of kidnapping the girl on Thursday night and sexually assaulting her. After those men were punished by the panchayat (or village council), they attacked the girl’s parents and set the family home ablaze. The teen is believed to have died in the fire.
CNN reported that the family was attending a wedding when the kidnapping took place. The teen was taken to a forest and raped repeatedly by the group of men before being released. Her parents reported the crime to the local village council who decided to impose a $750 fine (50,000 rupees) and 100 situps to each of the perpetrators.
Officer Ashok Ram, who presides over the Itkhori police station, told CNN that the men retaliated by physically assaulting the parents. The men enlisted the help of friends to burn the family’s home. The teen was inside and reportedly died in the fire. An autopsy will be performed to determine the girl’s primary cause of death, according to local police.
Deputy commissioner of the Chatra District, Jitendra Kumar Singh, said that the 15 of the 20 men accused have been arrested and taken into custody while the investigation continues. The head of the village council has also been arrested.
Recent incidents of rape involving minors in India have caused local outrage and demands that lawmakers do more to protect women and girls from sexual assault. Protests have erupted across the country fueling the call for stiffer sentences in cases of rape and sexual assault. The proposed legislation calls for sentences in these crimes to now include incarceration and the potential of a death penalty.
However, in rural areas like Jharkhand, village councils are still recognized by local residents as having primary authority in criminal and civil complaints. Subject to customs and cultural standards, these councils have been known to rule in favor of patriarchal norms. But legally, the panchayats have no standing in regards to India law.
Jharkhand Chief Minister Raghubar Das condemned the horrific incident calling it “barbaric” and declaring that such behavior has no place in a “civilized society.”