A 20-year-old woman in India's West Bengal state says she was gang-raped on the orders of a village council because she fell in love with a man from a different community, police said Thursday.
It was the latest in a series of high-profile cases that have focused attention on the problem of sexual violence in India.
Thirteen suspects, including the leader of the council, were arrested in connection with the alleged assault, according to Indian news reports.
The reports said the man visited the woman’s village in the Birbhum district on Monday to propose marriage but was intercepted by other residents.
The woman, who has not been identified, told police that the couple was brought before village elders that night and tied to a tree. They were each ordered to pay fines of about $400, the reports said.
The man was freed when his family paid his portion, but when the woman’s family couldn’t pay, the village leader allegedly ordered that she be “enjoyed” by the men of the community, the reports said.
"I lost count of how many times I was raped," the woman was quoted as saying by the NDTV news network.
The woman’s family filed a police report Wednesday. She was admitted to a local hospital, where she was reported to be in stable condition Thursday.
News of the alleged assault brought swift condemnation from West Bengal’s governor and other political figures.
"We should have them arrested and corporal punishment should be given to them," Gov. M.K. Narayanan was quoted as saying by the Hindustan Times.
West Bengal's chief minister, Mamata Banerjee, ordered the Birbhum district police superintendent removed from his post, the paper said.
Public outrage after the fatal gang rape in 2012 of a 23-year-old student traveling on a bus in New Delhi has prompted changes in the country’s laws on sexual violence. But authorities have been unable to end the scourge.
This month, police said a 51-year-old Danish tourist who was asking for directions was beaten and gang-raped at knifepoint in Delhi. And a Polish woman was allegedly drugged and raped by a taxi driver as she traveled to the Indian capital with her 2-year-old daughter, police said.
The case in the eastern state of West Bengal caused particular concern because it was said to have been ordered by the village council. Such councils are common in rural India, where they often enforce strict codes of behavior.
When questioned by journalists, fellow villagers in Subalpur blamed the alleged victim.
"She is a bad character," an unidentified mother of two, who is related by marriage to one of the suspects, told NDTV. "She was going around with this non-tribal man. We told her not to, but she didn't listen."
The woman denied that a gang rape occurred, saying that the council meeting lasted the entire night.
“I was there. When was it possible to gang-rape the girl?” she was quoted as saying. “If she dares to come back to the village, I will kill her.”