India's treatment of women is again eliciting shock as reports circulate about an unofficial council of village elders who ordered two Indian women to be gang-raped after their brother eloped with a married woman of a higher caste.
Meenakshi Kumari, 23, and her 15-year-old sister were told that their faces would be blackened and they would be raped and paraded naked in front of their neighbors by a council based in Uttar Pradesh, northern India. Kumari then petitioned the Indian Supreme Court to protect her and her family, which is of the Dalit caste — the lowest in India's hierarchy. Members of the caste were previously referred to as "untouchables." The word Dalit means "oppressed."
The woman their brother eloped with is of the higher Jat caste.
Amnesty International launched a petition decrying the treatment of the sisters. It has gathered nearly 30,000 signatures. The sentence — decided and delivered by an all-male, unofficial council known as a khap panchayat — was handed down on July 30, according to Amnesty.
According to the New Indian Express, their 22-year-old brother had been having an affair with the 21-year-old woman for three years. They ran away together twice, in January and March. When they were eventually discovered in the city of Meerut last summer, the woman issued charges against the man for abducting her. He is currently being held in prison.
While pleading her innocence to the Supreme Court, Kumari said that she was no longer able to return to her village and had "been rendered homeless."
Rachel Alcock, Amnesty UK's Urgent Action Coordinator, told VICE News that the government of Uttar Pradesh has an urgent duty to keep this family safe.
"Rape is a revolting crime, not a punishment. It's no wonder this disgusting 'sentence' has provoked global outrage," she said. "These khap [unofficial village] courts routinely order vile sexually violent punishments against women. India's Supreme Court has rightly declared such orders illegal."
Human rights advocates have called for an independent investigation into such illegal orders, which these regional councils evidently continue to issue. India's Supreme Court does not recognize khap panchayatas, which hold great influence in rural areas and are very conservative.