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8 Jul 2018

Birbhum teen gang-raped after 'affair' rap

Police personnel deployed after the incident in Parui.  Picture by Sekh Abubakkar Siddik
Snehamoy Chakraborty, TT, Jul 08, 2018, Parui (Birbhum): A 16-year-old tribal girl warned by elders in her Birbhum village over an alleged relationship with a youth from outside her community and her family's perceived "modern" lifestyle was gang-raped on Friday, police said.

The assault in Parui was reminiscent of a Labhpur atrocity in January 2014 when a tribal girl in her early 20s was gang-raped on the instructions of a kangaroo court over similar reasons.

There was, however, no known involvement of a kangaroo court in Friday's incident. Police said the family of the victim had fled the village. "We have deployed a large team in the village to avoid untoward incidents," said a police officer.

Five youths have been arrested and charged with gang rape under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, Birbhum police chief Kunal Agarwal said. This followed a complaint on Saturday from one of the victim's two elder sisters. If found guilty, the accused will face jail terms from eight to 12 years.

Police sources said they were waiting for a medical report on the victim from the Bolpur Sub-divisional Hospital, where she is now admitted. "She has been complaining about aches in several parts of the body," said a doctor.

Speaking from the hospital, the Class VII dropout said she was returning from a relative's home on Friday evening on her bicycle when Sona Murmu, a fellow villager, stopped her and called others over the phone. "Three of them raped me. A few others were also with them," she said.

The girl's family members said that when she did not return till 9.30pm, they went looking for her and found her lying in a paddy field around 800 metres from home.

"My clothes were thrown away. I was lying naked in the field. Only after my uncle came with some clothes could I get up and return home," the victim said.

The girl lives with her parents - her father is a farmer - elder brother and the two sisters. The family alleged they were being targeted and "discriminated" against by fellow villagers.

"This happened as we are more educated than most girls. Our father gives us freedom to socialise. Most of our friends are from outside the village and the community, and many of them are boys. We use smartphones and are better dressed than many. Because of these things, the elders of this village have often warned our parents," said the eldest sister.

"We suspect this attack (was carried out) because the regressive people in this village cannot tolerate our refusal to stick to tradition," said the sibling, who studied till Class XII.

Several villagers admitted to disliking the family because of their "lifestyle". Some attributed the attack to the victim's alleged relationship with a boy from outside the community. None believed the five arrested suspects assaulted the teenager.

Neither the victim nor her family acknowledged the alleged relationship. The eldest sister said the boy in question was just a friend. "What the villagers suspect is not true at all," she said.

Tribal leaders condemned the incident and vowed to start an "awareness campaign". "It is an atrocious incident. We will start a campaign soon to bring awareness in the village," said Sunil Soren, convenor of the Birbhum Adivasi Gaonta, an apolitical tribal organisation in Birbhum.

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