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Indian Supreme Court orders probe into gang rape directed by village council

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NEW DELHI - India's Supreme Court has ordered an investigation into the gang rape of a 20-year-old woman allegedly attacked on the direction of a village council, Press Trust of India news agency said Friday.

The woman told police that Monday's attack in West Bengal state came as punishment for falling in love with a man from a different community and religion.

The case has brought fresh scrutiny to the role of village councils, which are common in rural Indian. The councils decide on social norms in the village, and in some cases they dictate the way women can dress or who they can marry. Those who flout the councils risk being ostracized.

Thirteen suspects, including the head of the village council, were arrested Thursday.

The West Bengal state government on Friday transferred the top police official of the district for failing to follow proper procedures while arresting the suspects.

The woman is a member of the ethnic Santhal tribe. Her religion has not been disclosed but in general the tribespeople worship spirits and ancestors. The man is a Muslim from a neighbouring village and did not belong to that tribe.

The women told police that the man visited her village, Subalpur, in Birbhum district of the state, on Monday to propose marriage, but was caught by other villagers. She said the two of them were tied to a tree while the village council decided their fate.

The village council ordered the man and woman to each pay a fine of 25,000 rupees ($400). The man's family was able to pay, but when the woman's family said they were too poor, the council ordered the gang rape, police said.

The woman told police that she lost count of how many men raped her.

A rash of high-profile rapes in India over the past year has sparked widespread outrage over chronic sexual violence and government failures to protect women.

Subalpur is about 180 kilometres (110 miles) north of Kolkata, the capital of West Bengal.

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