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Aditya Nath Jha, Hindustan Times
Purnia, March 12, 2014
A panchayat in eastern Bihar tonsured the head of a 14-year-old orphan Dalit girl, blackened her face and paraded her through a village as "punishment" for talking to a boy.
 
The incident of extreme public humiliation took place at Kadwa Tola village under sadar police station, about 10 km east of divisional headquarters town of Purnia on Tuesday, police said on Wednesday.
 
"They smeared my face with ash, shaved my head and made me run around the village in that state as I was too poor to pay Rs. 12,000 fine the panchayat had imposed on me for talking to the boy," police quoted the girl as saying.
 
Six out of seven accused including the village headman Vishnudeo Rishi has been arrested, said Shweta Kumari, the station house officer (SHO) of Purnia women's police station.
 
The Bihar incident, though not as brutal, brought back memories of the gang rape of a 20-year-old tribal woman in west Bengal's Birbhum district in January at the orders of a salishi sabha, the state's equivalent of khap panchayats, for a similar "crime"
 
Then too the kangaroo court had imposed a fine of Rs. 50,000 on the girl and her boyfriend and her failure to pay up had led to the sexual assault as "humiliation".
 
The victim of the Bihar incident, who lives with her grandfather, told Hindustan Times through an intermediary that both her parents died a few years ago from leprosy.  She is a class 6 student of a middle school.
 
 
Coincidentally, the public humiliation of the minor took place on a day when a woman lawmaker of Purnia district, Dhamdaha MLA Lesi Singh, was sworn in as a member of the Nitish Kumar cabinet.
 
But a section of Kadwa Tola residents sought to justify the village panchayat action as necessary for maintenance of "social discipline and moral propriety". Police "interference" in such matters was unwarranted, they insisted.
 
As per the girl's statement to the police, some residents of Kadwa Tola found her talking to a boy of the same village near the Gulabbagh marketing yard on Monday evening. 
 
"They tied me and the boy I was talking to and kept us hungry for the whole of Monday night. On Tuesday morning, the panchayat members slapped a fine of Rs. 12,000 on each of us," she told the police.
 
She said that the boy was released after his parents promised to pay the fine.
 
Her 65-year-old grandfather supports his family of four members including the victim by pulling a rickshaw. 
 
The Purnia SHO said, "we are keeping the victim under police protection. She may be referred to a rehabilitation centre in a day or two".