A 14-year-old girl from the Bokaro District in Jharkhand, India, was raped in retaliation for a sexual assault committed by her brother. Adding to the horror of the experience, the rape was allegedly authorized by the village panchayat, or local council, as adequate retaliation for the brother’s misconduct.
According to the girl, the man arrived at her house after midnight with his wife, who dragged her out of her abode and tossed her over to the assailant. “She handed me over to her husband and told him to take me away to a nearby forest and rape me,” she said.
“We kept begging them. We begged with folded hands, but they would not listen. They dragged her away to the forest,” the girl’s mother said.
The assailant, identified as Nakabandi Passi, as well as Ghosala Passi — the village head — have been arrested and are currently awaiting trial. “They attacked her in retaliation and we are taking this case very seriously,” said Jitendra Singh, a top local police official. The girl’s brother has also been arrested on charges of molestation. All three of them have pleaded not guilty.
Village councils are often the only source of justice in rural areas of India. Deeply conservative in nature, the panchayat has the authority to decree on any subject of their choosing. Most of their rulings, however, enforce strict social norms about marriage and gender roles.
Even though the Indian Supreme Court recently ruled that no individuals or institutions can infringe on human rights, local village councils seem to operate with a different set of rules. “We make the decisions…and we never make mistakes,” said Sukhbir Singh, former village head of Reelkha.