Even as the country debates whether capital punishment in the brutal December 16 gang-rape case can act as a deterrence for sex offenders, the tribal 'courts' in West Singhbhum district are dispensing with their own version of misogynistic 'justice' in gender crimes.
Any crime short of murder is 'punished' by the manki-munda meetings in the area. In rape cases, the victim is asked not to approach the police and marry the accused. In a case of sexual harassment, the accused is asked to throw a party for the entire village. Sometimes, a social boycott of the accused's family is also announced.
In case of an extramarital relationship between a married man and a single woman, they are asked to get married. The first wife is also instructed to go on living as a 'happy family'.
Convener of West Singhbhum Zila Mahila Samiti Sister Basanti Besra said residents in Tantnagar, Chaibasa, Jhinkpani, Chakradharpur and other blocks often call a village meeting to decide in case of an extramarital affair. Villagers ask the man to marry the woman and convince the first wife to accept the marriage. "At least five to six such cases take place every year," she said.
In two separate cases, two youth made two tribal girls pregnant after promising them marriage. The girls insisted on filing FIRs against the boys when they rescinded on their promise but they were all brought before Nakahasa panchayat and Narsanda panchayat respectively. The panchayats asked the girls not to approach the police and the boys were instructed to marry the girls.
A similar judgement pronounced by Barkela panchayat turned tragic when the man killed the girl after accepting the decision to marry the victim.
General secretary of Manki Munda Sangh, Chandan Honhaga, said tribals are used to solving “minor” cases such as sexual harassment at village level. Sometimes the accused is fined and socially boycotted while at others he is asked to give a grand party of chicken, rice and handia to the villagers, he added.
West Singhbhum's superintendent of police Pankaj Kamboj said it is against the law for villagers to decide such crimes at their own level. "If anybody files a complaint, the police always take action. During my tenure in West Singhbhum, I have not witnessed any rape or murder victim being brought to the village court. However, minor cases are decided at village meetings," Kamboj said.