Women in India: Case Update

Global Women's Project | Tue, Mar 18, 2014

Source: Photo/Basoo!/CC/cropped

Welcome back to the Women in India blog published by the Global Women's Project! In this post, we provide a detailed background to the West Bengal rape case and follow a few updates. (Photo credit: Basoo!/cropped/CC Attribution)

Post by the Global Women's Project


Welcome back to the Women in India blog! The West Bengal rape case continues to unfold, and we at the GWP continue to follow the most recent developments. Before we address the current situation, we need to provide some background. 

An act of violence 

On January 20, reports emerged from the village of Subalpur in the province of West Bengal, India, that a 20 year-old woman of the Santhal tribe had been brutally raped by as many as 15 men at the behest of a village elder. 

What legitimate reason could there possibly be for the de-facto tribal council to sentence this young woman to such a tragic fate?  The young woman, whose name cannot be released due to Indian law, had fallen in love with a Muslim man from another community. After her feelings for the young man were discovered, they were both tied up in front of the village and forced to pay a 25,000 rupee (about $400) fine each. While the young man’s family was able to pay, the young woman’s family could not. In response, the village elder, or “headman”, told the men of the village to “enjoy her.” He then said that if the woman’s family reported the incident, the elders would burn their house down. 

After she was raped repeatedly and publicly, the woman managed to escape the village two days later, where she sought medical attention and contacted police authorities. 

A stunted response

Police response to the rape has been stunted at best, as has the political response. Some sources, including the Times of India, say the police took days to investigate the crime, arrest some of the responsible individuals, and offer the girl and her family protection from further violence. Furthermore, the public prosecutor did not appear in court. As of the publication, 13 individuals, including the village elder, are in police custody pending further judicial action. 

Politicians, on the other hand, were quick to condemn the violence but shied from overt criticism of the system of local tribunals that condoned the assault. The governor of West Bengal was quick to speak out against the “kangaroo court” system in the state after a swarm of media criticism, insisting that the village courts be “put down,” according to the Times

The most significant judicial action, however, has been through the Supreme Court, which took suo moto cognizance of the case, i.e. the court acted on its own to recognize the case without a request from either party, according to the Associated Press. The National Commission for Women has also sent a delegation to the village to investigate the case. 

Despite this significant step, it appears little substantial action is being taken politically or judicially, to address the issue, assist the victim, or openly discuss the pervasive system of local tribunals across the state, outside of the action of the highest court. 

Next up: A look at the most recent developments in the West Bengal rape case and a consideration of the cultural and political underpinnings of this case. 

Please keep following the Women in India blog for more updates on this case. We would love to hear your thoughts! Contact us at