NEW DELHI - More than 175,000 people have signed a petition to protect two low-caste Indian sisters allegedly threatened by a local council with rape, Amnesty International India said on Monday, according to Reuters.
The human rights group began circulating the petition last week, which aims to help 23-year-old Meenakshi Kumari, her 15-year-old sister and their family after they were allegedly forced to flee their northern India village in May after the girls' brother eloped with a higher caste, married woman, Reuters reports.
As punishment, on July 30, an un-elected village council run by upper caste men in Uttar Pradesh state allegedly ordered the two sisters be raped and paraded naked with their faces blackened, according to the petition.
The petition is asking for the government to take steps to ensure the safety of the family and for an investigation of the alleged rape order.
Reuters reports that police in Baghpat district have dismissed the case, saying there is no evidence of the rape order being given. Furthermore, one of the village council leaders told the local newspaper Mail Today that no such order was issued.
The family has reportedly petitioned India's Supreme Court seeking protection to return to their village.
According to Reuters, village councils - also known as "Khap Panchayats" - are not uncommon in northern, rural parts of India. They reportedly act as "de-facto courts settling rural disputes on everything from land and cattle to matrimony and murder," but they have come under "growing scrutiny as their punitive edicts grow more regressive, ranging from banning girls wearing jeans and using mobile phones to supporting child marriage and sanctioning the lynching of couples in 'honour killings.'"