The gang-rape of a tribal girl in Birbhum district of West Bengal, allegedly at behest of the village council, or 'salishi sabha' as it is locally called, has evoked quite a bit of critical attention of the world media.
New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Al Jazeera and others have carried long articles commenting not only on the callous attitude of the police and political leadership towards sexual crime against women but also shed light on the harsh realities of a part of rural India where marriage or dalliance outside the community can lead to community-sanctioned gang rape or even murder.
New York Times, in its article "Village Council in India Accused of Ordering Rape", has this to say about such village councils: "Village councils are common in rural India. They often enforce strict codes of conduct, and in some cases are deeply involved in deciding who will marry whom…. Couples who defy the marital codes are sometimes murdered…"
Commenting on the response of the local politicians, it says, sometimes they "react angrily to the publicity given to rape cases, which they believe reflect badly on their administration. The chief minister of West Bengal, Mamata Banerjee, lashed out at rape victims last year, saying in one case that a victim was lying, even though the police found evidence supporting the victim's account".
The Herald Tribune has carried the NYT article with a headline tweaked to read, "Rape was used to punish woman".
Al Jazeera carried two reports, "Indian woman gang-raped as 'punishment'" and "Police under fire over India gang rape". The second article points out how when the 13 accused were produced in the court, the public prosecutor was missing and the police didn't seek custody of the accused, "which is necessary to record the testimony of the accused to reconstruct details of the crime and collect evidence". The accused were sent to 14-day judicial custody.
It also points out the local newspapers reported "shocking scenes of resistance" when the police went to arrest the suspects. "Tribal women barred the police from entering their village to arrest the accused saying their men have done right in "punishing the immoral woman". It added, "Reports revealed the 'brick walls' and a 'mall TV set' at the victim's home were a cause of envy among her neighbours, who suspected her of losing her 'honour' to achieve prosperity".
Wall Streat Journal, in its article, "Woman Allegedly Gang-Raped for Dating", laments the dichotomy in the approach to sexual assaults in urban and rural India.
On the one hand, it says "India is engaged in a national debate on ways to combat violence against women after the gang rape and murder of a 23-year-old student in December 2012", and on the other, in rural parts of the country, "where age-old customs of caste, class and religion are reinforced, marriages outside the community are still frowned upon and premarital sex is often considered a sin".