Indian police have arrested 13 people over the gang-rape of a 20-year-old woman, who was allegedly assaulted on the orders of tribal elders.
The attack on Tuesday took place in a remote village in West Bengal state where the unmarried woman from the Santhal tribal group was suspected of a relationship with a Muslim man from a neighbouring village.
The elders, who comprise the informal village council, initially imposed a fine of 25,000 rupees ($A453) on her family, but they were unable to pay, district police superintendent C. Sudhakar told AFP.
“The girl was gang-raped for having an affair with a youth of another community and failing to pay the fine which was imposed by the village council,” he said.
“All 13 men, including the chief of the village council, who were named in the complaint before the police, were arrested.”
The incident in India took place in Subalpur village, about 240 kilometres west of state capital Kolkata, after the couple were discovered together.
“The head of the village council held an urgent meeting in the village square on Tuesday when the girl and her lover were called,” Sudhakar said.
“The girl and her lover were tied to two separate trees and fined 25,000 rupees each as a fine for having an affair,” he said.
“As the parents of the girl, who were also present at the meeting, expressed their inability to pay the fine, the head of the village council ordered that she should be raped by the villagers as punishment,” he said.
The man was freed after he agreed to pay the fine within a week, but the woman was taken to a shed where the attack was carried out, he said.
The woman, who was recovering in a local hospital in Birbhum district, identified the attackers to police. They are expected to appear in a district session court in the nearby town of Bolpur later Thursday, Sudhakar said.
Tribal or caste-based village councils composed of elders exert enormous influence over rural life, particularly in northern India, often issuing punishments for moral and other perceived offences.
Despite tougher laws and efforts to change attitudes to women in India’s deeply patriarchal society, the number of reported sex crimes continues to rise.