West Bengal gang rape: Supreme Court orders probe into 'disturbing' case

Indian girl taken to hospital Image copyright AP
Image caption Although the attack took place on Monday, the woman's family only gathered courage to go to police on Wednesday afternoon

India's Supreme Court has ordered a judge to investigate the gang rape of a tribal woman, allegedly on orders of village elders who objected to her relationship with a man.

The 20-year-old woman is in hospital. Her condition is reported to be stable.

Describing the case as "disturbing", the court ordered the district judge to visit the village and submit a report.

Thirteen men, including the village headman, have been arrested. Villagers have denied that any rape took place.

Unofficial courts in India's villages often sanction killings of couples deemed to have violated local codes.

Scrutiny of sexual violence in India has grown since the 2012 gang rape and murder of a student on a Delhi bus.

The government tightened laws on sexual violence last year after widespread protests following the attack.

But violence and discrimination against women remain deeply entrenched.

A three-judge bench of the Supreme Court, headed by Chief Justice P Sathasivam and comprising Justices Ranjan Gogoi and MY Eqbal, expressed shock over the incident on Friday.

The judges have set 31 January as the date for hearing the case.

'No rape'

On Thursday, West Bengal police said the woman belonging to the Santhal tribal group was gang-raped on Monday night for her relationship with a non-tribal man from a nearby village in Birbhum district.

The couple, who were in a relationship for almost five years, were caught on Monday when the man visited the woman's home with the proposal of marriage.

During the 'proceedings' of the kangaroo court, the couple were made to sit with hands tied. The man and the woman were each fined 25,000 rupees ($400; £240) for "the crime of falling in love".

The man paid up, but the woman's family were unable to pay, after which the headman, a distant relative of the woman, allegedly ordered the rape.

The suspects were produced in court on Thursday and remanded in custody. They have not yet made any public comment.

But on Friday, the entire village denied that the 20-year-old woman had been gang-raped.

The couple were caught in a "compromising position" and kept tied for the night in the headman's house, several of the villagers told the BBC's Amitabha Bhattasali when he visited the village.

But, they said, the village women "had taken turns to guard the couple at night" and denied that there had been any rape, our correspondent reports.

Clan-based village councils made up of local elders wield great influence over life in large swathes of rural India and often mete out punishments for offences deemed to contravene local traditions and mores.

The incident has led to outrage in India with some describing it as "inhuman and completely outrageous" and many calling for a quick trial and punishment for the rapists.

On Thursday, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee ordered the removal of the district police chief.