A 20-year-old Indian woman was raped by 13 men last week after orders from her village’s chief as punishment for having a relationship with a man from a different community.

On Monday 20th January, the assault took place in West Bengal’s Birdhum District, yet it was only reported to police on Wednesday.

A police spokesperson said the victim’s husband was tied up in the village square whilst the assault took place throughout the night in a mud house.

“We arrested all the 13 men, including the village chief who ordered the gang rape. The accused have been produced in court which remanded them to jail custody,” Birbhum’s Superintendent of Police, C. Sudhakar, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

India Gang Rape
The victim’s family told reporters that the woman was assaulted because the village court believed she had violated the rules of her tribe after beginning a relation-ship with a man, not from her community.

In northern parts of India, illegal village councils known as ‘Khap Panchayats’ act as de-facto courts settling rural disputes on everything from land and cattle to matrimony and murder.

The couple was ordered to pay a fine of 25,000 rupees (£500), said the victim’s mother, adding that the village head then ordered the rape of her daughter.

The victim told police: “People from the village, men my father’s age, and those who I knew as neighbours, as uncles and brothers raped me.”

Past examples of actions which have brought these councils under major scrutiny in the past include things such as banning western clothing and mobile phones from women, right through to the hanging of young couples in so-called ‘honour killings’.

India toughened laws on sex crimes in March last year following the infamous fatal gang rape of a woman on a moving bus in Delhi in December 2012. The case led to nationwide protests for better security and has helped sparked national debate about gender inequalities in India.

The issue was highlighted in local media again last week after a 51-year-old Danish tourist was gang-raped in central Delhi by at least five men whom she had asked for directions.

West Bengal recorded the highest number of gender crimes in the country in 2012 accounting for 12.2 per cent of the whole country.

Despite such high figures the conviction rate following rape crimes is as low as one per cent.