You won’t believe what I’ve heard of recently out of India. In a village in the Baghpat district of India, a girl named Meenakshi and her younger sister have been “sentenced” to rape by an all-male council who seems to be operating outside of India’s legal system. They’ve ordered that the girls be raped, their faces blackened, and that they be paraded naked, apparently as “punishment for their brother eloping with a married woman from a higher caste, and the two girls in question are fleeing the village and pleading for protection from India’s Supreme Court.
There’s absolutely everything wrong with what’s going on here. The most obvious of these things is that sexual violence is apparently something people use to punish people, which no civilized or well-ordered social system would ever allow. The fact that it’s an all-male council ordering this also clearly reeks of misogyny. Then there’s the fact the council claims it is enforcing an “eye-for-an-eye form of justice”, which seems wrong to me for at least two reasons: (1) the principle of lex talionis (eye for an eye justice) doesn’t apply if you’re “punishing” someone who didn’t commit a crime instead of someone who did commit the crime, and most crucially (2) why the fuck is adultery considered a criminal offence, let alone one that can be punished with the sexual violence the council describes? But what’s really striking is that these village councils are operating completely outside the legal authority of the Indian government, which would make their rulings entirely extrajudicial in nature. According to Amnesty International, who are running a petition in order to ensure that the girls are protected, there are a number of village councils (referred to as Khat Panchyats) across India that are unelected and operate outside of India’s legal system, and are often run by older men from dominant castes who prescribe rules for social behavior and interaction. India’s Supreme Court condemns these councils as “kangaroo courts” and their rulings are deemed illegal, but apparently that doesn’t mean much because these councils continue to operate in rural areas of India and continue to carry out their decisions outside the legal authority of India’s government, and to me this means that India’s government is more powerless to do anything about these councils than it should be.
This is something that can’t be allowed to continue, and the worst thing about it is this not the only time something like this has happened in India. In January of last year, a village tribunal in West Bengal decreed that a 20-year old woman be sexually assaulted by 12 people as “punishment” for falling in love with a man from outside of the community and then failing pay a fine of 50,000 rupees imposed by the village council. Four years earlier, in the same area, village elders ordered a young woman to strip naked and walk before large crowds for having relations with a man from a different caste. In July that same year, a village from the state of Jharkhand ordered the rape of a 14-year old girl after her brother was accused of assaulting a married woman. As a matter of fact, sexual violence in general is a serious problem in India, one that gained major exposure after an incident in 2012 where a young girl was gang-raped and left to die in Dehli, and unfortunately one that India’s government has been accused of having a poor track record of dealing with. Despite promising to crack down on rape and sexual violence and despite strengthening rape laws, the Indian government hasn’t done a lot to prevent women from having to fear for their lives, especially in rural villages where the government doesn’t seem to be doing a lot about the village councils who operate outside the legal authority of the government. In the case of the latter, the problem is that these councils operate on old forms of tradition that view women not as individuals, but as representations of the “honor” of a man or a community, a horrible view that seems to have gone unchanged in rural parts of India.