India has caught the attention of international organisations because of a very bizarre sentence handed out by the Khap panchayat, an unelected and all male village council, to Meenakshi Kumari, 23, and her sister about a fortnight ago.
The two sisters were ordered by a Khap panchayat to be gang-raped and paraded around a village naked with blackened faces as punishment for their brother’s “crimes”.
The 22 year old brothers crime- he ran away with a 21 year old married woman from the village’s dominant Jat caste. As reported by jantakareporter.com on 20 August, the couple were in love for the past 3 years, but the woman’s parents married her off to a young man from the Jat caste, against her wishes in February.
A month after her marriage, the woman fled the matrimonial home and eloped with the brother.
The young man has been arrested under a drug charge and he remains in jail.
International human rights body, Amnesty International, has called on Indian authorities to ensure the safety of the young woman and her 15-year-old sibling after they were sentenced by village elders.
More than 150,000 people have now signed the online petition to stop the punishment being carried out by Khap panchayat.
Amnesty’s Gopika Bashi, speaking to Sky News said that “the councils usually comprised of dominant caste men, describing the system as an illegal “kangaroo court. On many of the times, they order sexually violent punishment as part of their decrees.”
The victim and their relatives belong to the lower Dalit caste and have no option but to flee the village and are apparently now in New Delhi.
Amnesty said the older sister has filed a petition before India’s Supreme Court seeking protection for her family so they can return home.
On 18 August, the Supreme Court ordered Uttar Pradesh authorities to reply to the petition by 15 September.
However, one of their brothers told Amnesty, “After we went to the Supreme Court, the villagers are even more aggressive. In the panchayat, the Jat decision is final. They don’t listen to us. The police don’t listen to us. The police said anyone can be murdered now.”
Amnesty said the family had also lodged a complaint with the National Human Rights Commission and the National Commission for Scheduled Castes.
This issue has caused outcry even among British MPs.
Nadhim Zahawi, a Conservative MP of the UK foreign affairs select committee, condemned the ruling as “disgusting” and urged the UK Foreign Office to intervene.
“I am revolted. No culture or religion, no human being with any humanity would condone this,” he was quoted by London’s Times newspaper.
Hilary Benn, Labour MP and the shadow foreign secretary, said, “I urge Philip Hammond (UK Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs) to make immediate representations to the Indian authorities for action to be taken to protect the two sisters.”
A spokesperson for the Foreign Office said, “We are aware of the particular concerns around violence against women and girls in India and are committed to working with the Indian government on this important issue.”
They allege harassment by the police and the dominant caste family.