India rape
India has been in the spotlight for the high incidence of sex attacks Getty Images file photo

Two sisters in India, one of whom is only 15-years-old, have been "sentenced" to rape as "punishment" after their brother had an affair with a married woman. An unelected all-male village council in Baghpat district, Uttar Pradesh, ordered that Meenakshi Kumari, 23, and her teenage sister will also be paraded through the streets naked, with blackened faces, as they are made to pay the price for their brother's alleged transgressions.

The Kumaris are Dalits, or untouchables, placed at the very bottom of India's ancient and archaic caste system. According to Zee News, the pair's brother Ravi fell in love with a girl from the higher Jat caste, however the relationship was forbidden by the family elders. The girl was then forcibly married off to another man in February, but later eloped with Ravi. The Jat woman is now thought to be pregnant with his child.

The couple surrendered after discovering that their family were allegedly tortured by police and members of the Jat community, to avenge the brother's actions. Meenakshi has filed a petition with the Supreme Court asking for protection. Her father has also lodged a complaint saying that his family has been harassed, not just by the family of the woman who has eloped, but also by the police.

The Khap panchayat, or village council has now decided that the barbaric "punishment" will be inflicted on the sisters as retribution. Sumit Kumar, another brother of Meenakshi, said that 'the Jat decision is final', adding, 'The police said anyone can be murdered now.'

Khap panchayats comprise older men from dominant castes, who wield power in rural villages, and operate as the law, prescribing rules for social behaviour in villages. According to Amnesty International, such 'kangaroo courts' continue to operate in India eventhough their decrees have been branded illegal.

The Daily Mail reports that the human rights group has started a petition against the 'abhorrent' punishment, which now has nearly 30,000 signatures out of a target of 50,000. Rachel Alcock, Amnesty UK's urgent action coordinator, said: "Rape is a revolting crime, not a punishment. It's no wonder this disgusting 'sentence' has provoked global outrage.

"These Khap courts routinely order vile sexually violent punishments against women. India's Supreme Court has rightly declared such orders illegal. The government of Uttar Pradesh has an urgent duty to keep this family safe. There must also be a proper, independent investigation into these barbaric and illegal orders which apparently continue to be issued by the khap panchayat courts."

Since the fatal rape of student Jyoti Singh Pandey in Delhi in 2012, India has come under the spotlight for its high incidence of sex crimes, including attacks on tourists from Switzerland and Denmark. In 2014, a spate of rapes in Uttar Pradesh – including some which saw the victims being hung from trees after being abused – caused a huge backlash, with dozens of people urging the Indian government to tighten its laws on rape and to persecute perpetrators who go largely unpunished.