By Sasha Pei-Silovo – EM TV, Port Moresby
Two sisters, 23-year-old Meenakshi Kumari and her 15 year-old-sister sentenced by village elders to be paraded naked and raped over the elopement of their brother to a married woman of higher caste, have spoken out over their ordeal.
From Sankrot Village, in Uttar Pradesh, Central India, about 50 miles from the capital of New Delhi, the sisters and other members of their family are reportedly in hiding.
In news that has the world gripped; Amnesty International India has launched an online appeal to protect the sisters, and has called on Indian authorities to protect the young woman and teenager from being raped. Find petition here.
According to local media reports, the family’s troubles began when the sisters’ older sibling, Ravi Kumar, 22, ran off with 21-year-old Krishna, who comes from a higher caste known as the Jat caste.
Kumar and his family belong to the Dalit caste, also known as the ‘untouchables’ and according to the Indian caste system; men of the lower class were not permitted to marry women of the upper caste. However, this did not stop Ravi and Krishna from carrying a secret relationship for the past three years, despite both their families forbidding the lovers from continuing their courtship.
It was alleged that the young woman was married off by her parents against her wishes in February, and following the forced marriage, ran off with Kumar.
On July 30, an unelected all-male village council (khap panchayat) ordered the rape of the two sisters, and the parading of the two young women, naked with their faces blackened as a form of punishment for their brother’s actions.
The Daily Mail UK reports that Meenakshi Kumari has spoken out about the fear she had over the sentencing made by the village elders, stating that she could not sleep or eat out of fear of being found and punished.
According to the report, the 23-year-old said that the family had been in Delhi for a wedding when they got word of the punishment from a concerned neighbour who warned them against returning to the village.
The village council described as being a “kangaroo court” by Amnesty officials is said to be comprised of men from the upper Jat caste who view the elopement of a man from the ‘untouchables’ caste to a women of the upper class as an “act of humiliation”.
Amnesty International reports that the older of the two sisters filed a petition seeking the protection of their family and on August 18, local authorities were ordered by the Supreme Court to reply to the petition by September 15.
According to the family, the villagers have become more aggressive after being notified of the petition.
Amnesty said the family had also lodged a complaint with the National Human Rights Commission and the National Commission for Scheduled Castes.