Tribal leaders in Birbhum district where a 20-year-old girl was allegedly gang-raped recently have stuck to the claim that the girl had lied to frame the morol (village headman) and the media was defaming the traditional justice system of the Santhal community.
At least 20 Santhal organizations from different districts came together at Angargaria village in Md Bazar, a tribal-dominated pocket, last Sunday to express their disapproval of the media portrayal of their internal justice system or "Salishi Sabha".
The meeting was organised by the Birbhum district unit of "Bharat Jakat Majhi Maroa" and attended by Santhal leaders, student leaders, intellectuals and also a group of women from Labhpur village where the gang-rape took place.
The Santhal leaders said they would start building public opinion in favour of their age-old justice system.
The young girl was allegedly ordered to be gang-raped by one such kangaroo court at the Birbhum village.
The Santhal organisations, however, continued to deny that the rape had at all taken place.
Opel Murdy, a leader of the Bharat Jakat Majhi Maroa said, "It is true that the villagers dragged the woman and her fiance from a house where they were caught in a compromising position, but the morol did not hold any court where an order was passed to rape the woman." He alleged that the government was out to destroy their traditional system of justice and undermine the authority of the morol in their tribal set-up.
He wondered why their justice system was being targeted while the existence of similar systems or personal laws in other communities was not questioned.
He said that the entire tribal community would revolt against the move
Murdy threatened to organize a bigger rally at the village where the so-called rape took place and said that he and other leaders of the community had met the district administration on Monday to express their grievances.
Sunil Soren, a leader of another tribal organization "Birbhum Adibasi Gaota" agreed to Murdy's contention, though he said his organization was different from Bharat Jakat Majhi Maroa.
Soren said that they cannot abandon their traditional justice system for the sake of a 'stray' incident and urged the media and the government to understand Santhal sensibilities.
Meanwhile, the district administration has started construction of a new house for the outraged girl at Talipara village where she had shifted, six km from Labhpur where the crime was committed.
Jagdish Prasad Meena, the district magistrate, said, "The house will be constructed as early as possible. There will be all required facilities including water and electricity. The mother would also be given widow-pension besides food-staff, clothing and other things." Residents of Talipara village said that they had initially resisted the move to construct the new house for the girl, but later relented on one condition that the man with whom she had an affair would not allowed to stay there.
A villager Baidyanath Murmu, said, "The girl has given a bad name to our society, but henceforward she will have to abide by rules of their Santhal society."
An official of the Labhpur BDO office, who is entrusted with the construction of the house, said the land was owned by a relative of the girl.