Yes, that’s genuinely happening. Because their brother eloped with a forcibly married woman from the dominant jat caste, a khap panchayat- an unelected, all-male, all-jat village council- has ordered that Meenakshi Kumari, 23, and her 15-year-old sister are raped and paraded naked with their faces blackened.
Thankfully, I only heard about this via the website of Amnesty International UK, which has set up an online petition to ensure that the sisters and their brother’s partner are protected and their family able to return home, and that an investigation and prosecutions are carried out on the men who ordered what Amnesty describe as ‘this disgusting ruling’. (1)
The Kumari family are from the lowest caste in Indian society, the Dalit, also known as the Untouchables. It is hardly the first time that inter-caste marriage has wrought serious repurcussions- there are over 1,000 honour killings every year against people crossing caste or religious divides, (2) and the Jat woman is said to be at risk of violence. Honour killings are often ordered by khaps and their other punishments are also carried out even though these councils are illegal. The Jat caste are ‘a powerful vote bank in India and few political leaders are prepared to challenge them’ (2).
But this is about more than social status.
The rape, not the first ‘vile sexual [punishment] against women’ ordered by a chap panchayat, is described as an ‘eye for an eye’ ruling (3). This strongly suggests that the women and girl in this case are viewed by the council as property- the brother ‘stole’ one of ‘their’ women from her family and husband, and the idea of this sentence is to ‘dishonour’ the family by defiling (many still expect women in India to still be virgins when they marry (4)) their property. Women’s rights still have a long way to go in India, as in most countries- 64% of girls leave school before 8th grade, and rape has been shown to be horribly widespread- an Indian woman is raped every 20 minutes. (5)
The Amnesty petition, thankfully, is tantalisingly close to hitting its target of 250,000 signatures (there is a link below) and the story has now been covered in several newspapers here. I am also including a link to an article about six organisations fighting for women’s rights in the country- once you have read about them, please look up their websites and donate if you can.
There has been no word yet on the sisters’ case, but we can all do something, however small, to make change happen.
- The Amnesty petition- https://www.amnesty.org.uk/actions/two-sisters-sentenced-rape-demand-justice-india-womens-rights
- Find out more about these Indian women’s rights groups:http://www.bustle.com/articles/89136-6-indian-womens-rights-organizations-that-are-bravely-fighting-for-change