KOLKATA, India, Sept 3 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - A teenage girl who defied a village court order to lick spit as punishment was found dead by a railway track in eastern India, with her family alleging she was raped and murdered for dishonouring the diktat, police said on Wednesday.
The 15-year-old girl went missing on Monday night after an altercation with villagers in West Bengal's Jalpaiguri district. Her father was asked to pay back a debt of 4,000 rupees ($66) to a neighbour but when he could not, he was beaten by villagers.
Police said the victim had intervened to protect her father, enraging the village court which told her to lick up spit as punishment - an order which she refused to carry out.
Her partially naked, mutilated body was found on Tuesday.
"Apparently the girl was hit by a train and then dragged for 500 feet. So her clothes could have been torn then," Jalpaiguri Superintendent of Police Kunal Agarwal told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
"But since she went missing after the village court incident, we are not ruling out murder or any other circumstances leading to her death."
Agarwal said that two villagers - one of whom is the man her father owed money to - have been arrested on the suspicion of murder, but added that police were awaiting the result of the autopsy to find out if she was raped as alleged by her father.
In many parts of rural India, village councils act as de facto courts, settling rural disputes on issues from land and cattle ownership to matrimony and murder.
The councils have come under growing scrutiny for their punitive edicts - from banning women from wearing western clothing or using mobile phones to supporting child marriage and sanctioning the lynching of young couples in so-called "honour killings".
In January, a 20-year-old woman in West Bengal state was gang-raped by 13 men on the orders of a village court as punishment for having a relationship with a man from a different community.
(Editing by Nita Bhalla)