A 20-year-old woman, accompanied by her mother, entered her local police station in Labhpur, India last week to report having been sentenced to gang rape by her tribal leader when she was unable to pay an arbitrary fine.

Her village of Birbhum, devoid of electricity or a operating school, is one of the small communities where Bengal’s Left government made an attempt to allow civil disputes to be handled by local leaders. This endeavor has resulted in cases of kangaroo courts (known as “shalishi sabhas”) where the villages fall under the power of corrupt leaders who have no regard for the law.

Allegedly, the young woman had fallen in love with a young Muslim man from another village. When he came to visit the family on Monday evening, he was taken by members of the community and kept until the next morning, when the couple was dragged out and tied to separate trees while the ‘court’ (made up of nearly all the males in the village, including children,) held a trial before the rest of the village.

It was decided that the couple would each owe the ‘court’ 25,000 rupees (roughly $396) for breaking tribal tradition, to be paid immediately. The young man was released when he promised to pay, but when the girl’s family explained that they didn’t have the money the community head, referred to as the ‘moral,’ told the members of the court, “If the family does not pay up, go and enjoy yourselves.”

The girl’s helpless parents and 15-year-old brother were confined to their home 50 meters away while the girl was raped by 13 members of the community, including the moral. When she was allowed to return home, her family took her to the block hospital in Labhpur for preliminary treatment. Her mother then took her to the police station, where she was admitted to a district hospital that later verified she had indeed been violently raped.

A slow response to this claim has called up a similar case in March 2013, when a 16-year-old girl was gang-raped, resulting in heightened laws for sex-related crimes. Memory of this recent embarrassment spurred government officials to take action in punishing these new perpetrators to avoid criticism for further negligence.

Police have met with denial and obstinacy from the village whose women defend their men, saying they are innocent and being framed as part of a conspiracy. None of them will testify to seeing the rapes; they claim the girl was simply asked to leave the village.

One woman, whose husband was among those arrested, said angrily to police, “It is this under-construction school that has brought shame to our village. It’s here that the two met. She has brought disrespect to our community.”

Hambram, a graduate from India’s Institue of Technology, agrees that this case has brought shame on the small village, but for different reasons. “In our tribal community, the will of a woman is respected. What happened in Birbhum is a crime. No tribal custom advocates brutality like rape.” What happened in Birbhum was clearly outside the jurisdiction of the village court and contrary to the model of rural life in Bengal.

-Lydia Caswell

Sources: Daily Mail, First Post, IBM Live, The Telegraph
Photo: India

Village Financial Services Private Limited India Bangladesh Microfinance
Formerly known as “Village Welfare Society,” Village Financial Services Private Limited (VFSPL) began in 1978. The state of West Bengal had just experienced a horrendous flood that devastated the area and several young people banded together in order to help save the lives of those affected by the flood. It was soon registered as a grant-based nonprofit organization.

The organization was officially established on January 23, 2006 and is a micro-finance operations program based in India, with its head office in Kolkata, located in the state of West Bengal.

A micro-finance organization is one that offers financial services to low income populations, like those present in several parts of urban and rural India. Various types of institutions offer this service, and some strictly focus on this one area of financial services. VFSPL focuses on mainly loan disbursement – as well as micro-finance – plus services like healthcare, which are accessed through the organization’s partner, Parinaam Foundation.

The program provides credit to poor and economically disadvantaged Indians. This credit is intended to be used for income-generating activities, as well as assistance in becoming self-sufficient in regards to finances. The organization also brings to light the burden of women in many families and promotes female empowerment in order to bring about positive change in the community. This self-sufficiency will help to build up economic health in the area and improve living conditions for those in poverty in India in the long run.

With over 100 branches all over the country, VFSPL is able to reach out to over one million people (specifically women) in the country, mostly in the areas of West Bengal and Bihar.

The mission of VFSPL is simple: “To strengthen the socio-economic condition of the society by providing financial and other support services mainly to the poor and women in a sustainable manner.” Hence, the organization reaches out to these people in order to achieve a greater good and to help families help themselves in the long run.

Part of what makes VFSPL unique is that the organization only lends to economically disadvantaged females. Catering only to females offers a supposed benefit; according to several studies in social development, females are better borrowers “in terms of repayment and utilization. They are much more likely to reinvest income into the household, for the benefit of the entire family.”

A shining example of VFSPL’s success resides within the success of client Archana Jana, a 44-year-old married woman with three children: two sons and a daughter. “Sukumar use to be karigar (labour) in making sholapith (shola) products used in decorating Hindu idols, in home décor and in creating the headgears of brides and grooms for a traditional Bengali wedding. Most of families in that area are into making these items. These items have a niche market but the karigars were paid low and it was very difficult for them to run their family. The condition of Jana family was also the same. Archana used to share the workload. After some years, Sukumars’s health condition became such that the Doctor at the Howrah Hospital advised him not to stress himself and not to do heavy work. Archana then decided to carry on the work of her own, while her husband was under treatment. She started her own business, taking loans from VFS and buying the raw materials directly. At that time her loan was Rs.2000. She is now having a loan cycle of Rs.12000 and she has now employed karigars under her. Her income is now more than Rs.200 per day. She found [her] lifeline during tough times and thanked VFS for the service provided to [her].”

For more information on microfinance and what VFSPL does, please take a look at their website:

– Samantha Davis

Sources:, Mix Market
Photo: The Guardian