Police in a tribal village in central India have launched a search for nearly 10 village council members who allegedly ordered shaving off a teenage girl's hair. The 13-year-old's fault was that she was sexually abused by a man while she was at work at a construction site.
While the girl was punished, her poor family ostracised and even asked to feed many community members, the accused was let off with a meager fine of 5,000 Indian Rupees (£56, $77), police reportedly said.
The victim reportedly belongs to the Baiga Adivasi community of Kawardha district in the state of Chhattisgarh. The tribe practices shifting cultivation in the forest areas of the district, which is still among the many socially backward rural parts of the country.
According to superintendent of police, Kawardha, Lal Umed Singh, the hair-cutting incident took place on 5 February and was part of a so-called "purification ritual". "On 21 January, the girl was molested by a person identified as Arjun Yadav (22) when she had gone to work at a construction site in the area. Following this, she informed her parents who informed the local village panchayat [village council]," Singh told the Press Trust of India.
"On 4 February, the Baiga Adivasi community, to which the girl belongs, convened a meeting and ostracised her family stating that their daughter had become impure due to the molestation incident."
He added that the family of the victim was also ordered to organise a feast with meat and drinks as part of the cleansing ritual, while the accused was only asked to pay a fine.
The accused, believed to be politically connected, was in a drunken state when he molested the teenager in Kawardha, India.com news website reported.
Police arrested the alleged abuser on Monday (12 February) and a search is underway for the community members who had ordered and carried out the "purification" ritual, Hindustan Times newspaper quoted police officials as saying.
According to the newspaper, the family is said to be living in fear and the girl has also not stepped out of her house.
Following reports of the incident in the media, social activists have demanded that all panchayat members be charged in the case and be given strict punishment.
"At least 10 people, including three women, who were involved in chopping off the girl's hair, are at large and efforts are on to trace them," Singh reportedly said, noting that a case under Atrocity act for the scheduled castes and tribes of India.
This is not the first time a sex abuse victim was made to undergo a purification ritual in India. In June 2015, a 23-year-old woman who was gang raped for eight months in Gujarat — a western Indian state — was ordered to face "purification tests" by her community. The ritual was performed by a tantric — a person who performs black magic and is believed to have supernatural powers.