India's top court orders probe into gang-rape

Thirteen suspects in custody with reports suggesting locals were jealous of victim for owning television set.

    India's top court has ordered the district judge of Birbhum in eastern West Bengal state to submit a fact-finding report on the horrific gang-rape of a tribal woman.

    A three-member panel of Supreme Court judges expressed shock over the "disturbing" incident and ordered that a report be filed by Monday after a visit to the village to ascertain the facts of the case.

    Meanwhile, lawyers and women's groups have criticised the police of Birbhum district for not seeking the remand of 13 villagers arrested for allegedly gang-raping the woman.

    The suspects -  belonging to Labhpur village - were accused of raping the woman on January 21 on the orders of a council of village elders for having a relationship with a man outside their tribe.

    The 20-year-old woman made a complaint to the police and was taken to hospital in Birbhum. She was reported to be in a "critical but stable" condition.

    The accused were produced in the court of the additional chief judicial magistrate in Birbhum on Thursday and sent to jail for 14 days.

    However, the police did not seek a remand which is necessary to record the testimony of the accused to reconstruct details of the crime and collect evidence, local newspapers have pointed out.

    Sunanda Mukherjee, West Bengal women's commission chairperson, said she would order a suo motu inquiry into the incident. "The district police will be asked to probe the matter and submit a report to the commission within 10 days", she said. 

    "There was no public prosecutor inside the courtroom, and police didn't ask custody," said Dilip Ghosh, a lawyer for the accused quoted by The Hindustan Times.

    Shocking violence

    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 and said their men had done right in "punishing the immoral woman".

    Tribes people accused the victim of a relationship with a man outside their community and of "ill-gotten" wealth from her job as a labourer in India's capital New Delhi.

    Reports revealed the "brick walls" and a "small 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.   

    The region is very poor with most living in thatched mud houses.

    The gang-rape has caused outrage across the country and abroad with even Amnesty International, the UK-based rights organisation, condemning the incident.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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