13 in court over India ‘punishment’ gang-rape

Subalpur – Thirteen men arrested over the alleged gang-rape of a woman in India for “dishonouring” her community appeared in court Friday as a village elder accused of ordering the punishment insisted he was innocent.

As India’s chief justice ordered an inquiry into the incident which has further fuelled public anger over levels of sexual violence, the victim’s neighbours described her as a charming woman who planned to marry.

Police and prosecutors said the 13 accused were produced before a court in West Bengal’s Birbhum district over allegations that the 20-year-old woman was repeatedly assaulted for being in a relationship with a Muslim man.

“All 13 accused arrested on the charge of gang-rape were remanded to 13-day police custody to help police investigate the incident,” Phiroz Kumar Pal, assistant public prosecutor, told AFP.

The defendants included the head of the tribal council in the village of Supalpur, 58-year-old Balai Mardi, who is alleged to have ordered the mass sexual assault after her parents were unable to pay a fine.

But speaking from his cell, wearing a traditional loincloth known as a “lungi”, a furious and unshaven Mardi denounced the charges against him.

“It’s conspiracy to falsely implicate me,” he told AFP.[More]