NEW DELHI: A mother hanged herself in India after a council of elders punished her family for her suspected extra-marital romance with a lowercaste man, a local police officer said yesterday. The mother-of-four killed herself on Monday as dozens of villagers gathered outside her house in central Madhya Pradesh state for a party the council had ordered her family to host as a punishment for the relationship.

The council, comprising members of the woman’s caste, found her “guilty” last month of having a relationship with a man from the lowest Dalit caste, previously known as untouchables, in India’s deeply entrenched social hierarchical system. As well as hosting the drinking party in Tikamgarh district, the 25-year-old was also fined 5,000 rupees ($74) and ordered to attend a local temple to atone for her “sins”, local police officer Maduresh Pacharui said.

Kangeroo court?

The council, or “panchayat”, had earlier sanctioned a social boycott of the family but changed the penalty after the woman’s family pleaded before the village elders, Pacharui said. “It seems she was depressed with the events and over her alleged affair with her husband’s co-worker, who is a Dalit. We are investigating the panchayat’s role,” he said. Nobody has been arrested over her death so far, he said.

Panchayats exert enormous influence over rural life, particularly in northern India, where they act as arbitrators for millions of poor villagers who do not have access to legal recourse. Although they carry no legal weight and are unconstitutional, they can be highly influential and have been blamed for numerous abuses such as the sanctioning of the murder of ‘unapproved’ couples and raping woman for defying social traditions. Branded “kangaroo courts” by critics, they have also been known to hand down public beatings and heavy fines for perceived crimes. —AFP