INDIA

That ‘rape verdict’ in an Indian village? It didn’t happen, investigation suggests

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 03 September, 2015, 4:21pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 03 September, 2015, 4:21pm

A village council in northern India has denied allegations that it ordered two young sisters to be raped because their brother eloped with a higher caste woman. The council’s purported ruling led to an international outcry and hundreds of thousands of people have demanded their safety.

Now, members of the village council in the Baghpat region of northern India have said they passed no such order. Family members of the two sisters also said they are unsure if the ruling was made. And local police deny any such directive was given.

When the accusations first emerged last month, they spread like wildfire. An online petition by Amnesty International seeking justice and protection for the low-caste sisters gathered over 260,000 signatures, mostly in Britain.

But family members said in interviews the suggestion that the council made such an order may have just been gossip.

“It is all hearsay, we don’t know if this actually happened,” said Dharam Pal Singh, 55, the women’s father and a retired soldier. “We heard it from other villagers.”

He identified one of the villagers, a man who also said he had heard it from others.

The incendiary allegations were contained in a petition to the Supreme Court filed last month by a lawyer for the Singh family seeking protection for the sisters. It said one of Singh’s sons fell in love with a married woman of a higher caste, leading to a row between the two families.

In its most sensational claim, the court filing said Meenakshi Kumari, 23, and her 15-year-old sister fled their home after being told they would be stripped naked and paraded with their faces blackened before being raped to atone for their brother’s transgression.

Rahul Tyagi, the lawyer who brought the case to the Supreme Court, was hired by the family when the row over the affair started some months ago.

Tyagi said he stood by the petition, which the family filed because of fears for the safety of the sisters, and denied failing to check the facts. However, he said he had never actually visited the village, nor spoken to any members of the council who supposedly issued the rape order.

 

Kumari, the elder sister, admitted she didn’t know if the council had issued a ruling but said she took the threat seriously because women are often punished in India for things they have not done. “It is very tough life for women,” Kumari said in an interview at Tyagi’s office in the relative security of the capital. “These things can happen.”

She said she had heard of the threat to rape her from her father.

 

The village council is more than 80 percent female and headed by a woman who, like the sisters, is from the bottom of the caste hierarchy.

“How many times do I have to tell you that there was no meeting?” said Bala Devi, 55, who has run the council for the last five years. “We spend our time discussing mundane things like fixing the roads or water pumps.”