‘This is a social massacre’: protesters’ anger over India’s latest, brutal, 'gang-rape in West Bengal'

Demonstrators gather at hospital after woman tells police she was punitively raped by 12 men

Subalpur

It was a silent demonstration so she may not have even known they were there.

But had the young woman looked from the first-floor window of her hospital ward, she would have seen a line of students protesting over the brutal sexual assault she had endured, allegedly on the orders of a tribal council.

It was Republic Day on Sunday and as students stepped in sequence through the grounds of the hospital in the town of Suri, West Bengal, they passed an Indian flag hoisted for the occasion. Yet the protesters said incidents such as the gang-rape of the 20-year-old woman eroded the meaning of the national celebration.

“When we open the newspaper and see three of four incidents like this every day, how can we not say this is a social massacre,” said Subhadeep Mondal, a geography student. “Our country is celebrating Republic Day. It is a mockery that such crimes are being committed.”

The young tribal woman at the centre of the latest assault to both shame and anger India, has told police she was last week gang-raped by anywhere up to a dozen men. She said the men were acting on the instructions of a village council who were punishing for her having a relationship with a married Muslim man.

In her statement to officers, she said she and the man were given the option of paying a fine of Rs27,000 (£260) each. The man managed to raise the money – his wife was forced to sell their daughter’s gold jewellery – but the young woman’s family could not.

In her statement, completed with a thumb-print, she claimed the village headman, Balai Maddi, had announced to the assembled village men: “Since they cannot pay the fine you all take the girl and have fun. Do whatever you want to do to her.”

She added: “After that they took me to a shed beside the kitchen of Balai Maddi and he and the 12 men mentioned in this report starting raping me one after the other from around 11.30pm.”

A week after the alleged attack rocked India, a series of competing narratives about what transpired 120 miles north of Kolkata has emerged. Some members of the village claim that no such attack took place and that the woman invented the allegation to get back at the council members who had issued the fine.

Officials believe an assault took place though they remain unsure of the details, even as to when it precisely happened. They are also unsure about the role of the council.

District police chief Alok Rajoria, who on Sunday morning was standing on a podium saluting participants in Suri’s Republic Day parade, said officers were trying to reconstruct the events with the involvement of those accused. A forensics team had come from Kolkata. A total of 13 men are in custody, among them Mr Maddi, the headman or morol.

“Our inquiry is still going on,” said Mr Rajoria, who was appointed last week following claims the previous chief had been slow to respond. He was transferred.

The people who could probably best through light on what took place and the events before and after – the young woman and her mother – are being prevented from talking. Two of her three brothers are in protective custody and a third out of the area.

Asit Kumar Biswas, superintendent of the hospital, said the woman was responding to treatment and that her psychological injuries were worse than the physical. He said she was too traumatised to be allowed to speak to the media. He had no answer for why he would not allow the woman’s mother to speak. “Perhaps in a couple of days,” he said.

In the young woman’s village, Subalpur, most people have turned hostile to the television crews who have descended on the dirt paths and date palms that rustle in the afternoon breeze. Those who do speak say the Vichar Sabah, or justice council, gave no such order for the woman to be raped. It did, however, issue a fine for the man and woman to pay.

One man, Amos Das, a 22-year-old student who lived nearby, raised doubts about the woman’s claims. “Nothing has come out that proves she was raped. Perhaps she had some enmity with those people and tried to frame them.”

Yet Mr Das said he understood why the village would want to punish woman who had a relationship with someone from outside the village.

His own community would do the same, he said. “More and more tribal women are having affairs with men from outside the village,” he said, standing on the edge of a field of mustard. “As the incidents have grown, they are feeling more threatened.”

In her absence a picture emerged of the victim, a young woman who had pushed at the constrains of her tribal society and had earned opprobrium for doing so. Several years ago, she had gone to Delhi to work, taking up a position and sending home money to her mother and brothers. She was the first woman from the village to do so.

When she returned, about eight months ago, she build one of the few brick huts, next to her mother’s hut. On her walls, next to several photographs herself and family members, were some posters for Bengali movie stars. Dozens of brightly coloured bangles were resting on a set of eye make-up was on the shelf.

Sunil Murmu, a villager who said he sold life assurance, claimed the woman and man had been found in her hut on Monday in a “compromising position”. The villagers previously had told the couple they should get married rather than continuing the affair.

“Her attitude was different. The other women did not mix with her,”claimed Mr Murmu. He said an increasing number of women were choosing to marry outside. “If they get married outside it erodes our culture and our identity. That is why there is the anger.”

Some experts have expressed surprise over claims the village council would ordered such a punishment. Ruby Hembrom, a Calcutta-based publisher of books on tribal affairs, said that the most extreme punishment used by the groups was to eject somebody from the community. “It would be impossible for a traditional tribal council to have made that decision.”

The gang-rape has created challenge for West Bengal’s chief minister, Mamata Banerjee, whose opponents accuse her of doing insufficient to prevent attacks on women. Tribal activists have warned against any moves to interfere with the village councils.

The young woman apparently started her relationship with the Muslim man, a builder, after she began assisting him as he worked to build the village’s first secondary school. On Sunday there was no sign of him and his wife, who had been forced to part with the family’s savings as a result of his affairs, said she had not seen him since last Monday.

She said she was angry and upset but that should her husband return, she would have no choice but to take him back. “I have a son and a daughter. Who is going to look after me if he is not here” she said, speaking from the doorway of her home, located four miles from Subalpur. “Who is going to get my daughter married?”

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
Sheeran arrives at the 56th annual Grammy Awards earlier this year
musicYes, that would be Ed Sheeran, according to the BBC
Arts and Entertainment
AKB48 perform during one of their daily concerts at Tokyo’s Akihabara theatre
musicJapan's AKB48 are one of the world’s most-successful pop acts
News
Ian Thorpe has thanked his supporters after the athlete said in an interview that he is gay
people
News
The headstone of jazz great Miles Davis at Woodlawn Cemetery in New York
news
Arts and Entertainment
Brendan O'Carroll has brought out his female alter-ego Agnes Brown for Mrs Brown's Boys D'Movie
filmComedy holds its place at top of the UK box office
News
newsBear sweltering in zoo that reaches temperatures of 40 degrees
Arts and Entertainment
Professor Kathy Willis will showcase plants from the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew
radioPlants: From Roots to Riches has been two years in the making
Arts and Entertainment
TV The follow-up documentary that has got locals worried
Arts and Entertainment
Eminem's daughter Hailie has graduated from high school
music
Arts and Entertainment
Original Netflix series such as Orange Is The New Black are to benefit from a 'substantial' increase in investment
TVHoax announcement had caused outrage
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur
fashion

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

News
One Direction star Harry Styles who says he has no plans to follow his pal Cara Delevingne down the catwalk.
peopleManagement confirms rumours singer is going it alone are false
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SEN Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Plymouth: PSHE Teacher required in Devon - Star...

SEN Teacher (Primary)

Negotiable: Randstad Education Plymouth: SEN Primary Teacher required Devon

SEN PPA Cover Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Plymouth: Teacher Jobs in Devon Devon

BSL Level 2 or above - Behaviour Support Assistant

£50 - £60 per day: Randstad Education Nottingham: We are looking for Teaching ...

Day In a Page

Super Mario crushes the Messi dream as Germany win the 2014 World Cup in Brazil

Super Mario crushes the Messi dream

Germany win the 2014 World Cup in Brazil
Saharan remains may be evidence of the first race war, 13,000 years ago

The first race war, 13,000 years ago?

Saharan remains may be evidence of oldest large-scale armed conflict
Scientists find early warning system for Alzheimer’s

Scientists find early warning system for Alzheimer’s

Researchers hope eye tests can spot ‘biomarkers’ of the disease
Sex, controversy and schoolgirl schtick

Meet Japan's AKB48

Pop, sex and schoolgirl schtick make for controversial success
In pictures: Breathtaking results of this weekend's 'supermoon'

Weekend's 'supermoon' in pictures

The moon appeared bigger and brighter at the weekend
Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

The evolution of Andy Serkis

First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

Blackest is the new black

Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor