One of two sisters sentenced to rape in India after their brother ran off with a married woman from a higher caste has spoken of her fear.

Meenakshi Kumari, 23, has told how she has not been able to sleep properly or leave the house for fear of the village elders – who sentenced her and her 15-year-old sister to rape – sending someone to deliver the punishment.

‘I can’t sleep, I’m very scared,’ she said from a secret location in Delhi. ‘How will we ever return home or to our village? If we ever return they will harm us or rape us. If not today then in the future. Jats never forget and they will not forget this humiliation. They want their revenge. Loving someone is not wrong.’

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Meenakshi Kumari, 23, poses for a photograph in New Delhi, India. © Cover Asia Press /Faisal Magray

Meenakshi and her little sister were with the family in Delhi for a wedding when a neighbour called them and told them not to return to the village as the un-elected village council, Khap panchayat , dominated by upper caste “Jat” men, ordered the two sisters be raped and paraded naked with their faces blackened as punishment for their brother’s actions

Their brother, Ravi Kumar, 25, from the Dalit caste, historically known as “untouchables”, had been in a relationship with 21-year-old Krishna from the Jat caste for almost two years.

When both families came to know they did all they could to keep the two apart.

How will we ever return home or to our village? If we ever return they will harm us or rape us

Older brother Sumit Kumar, 28, who works as a constable in the Delhi Police, said he told his younger brother to end the relationship immediately because they could never be together.

He said: ‘We belong to a lower caste and they are from an upper caste and I told him this relationship could never work. We are treated as untouchables but he didn’t listen to me and now we are paying for it.’

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Sumit Kumar, 28, along with his sister Meenakshi Kumari, 23, poses for a picture in New Delhi, India.                                © Cover Asia Press /Faisal Magray

Ravi met Krishna two years ago when she joined his computer classes for children, in Khekada, Uttar Pradesh, central India. They exchanged phone numbers and quickly fell in love. They’d be on the phone to each other all the time and meeting in secret locations.

But as soon as Ravi’s father Naik Dharampal Singh, 52, heard of the relationship he told him to end it. Even though Ravi ended the relationship they couldn’t bear to be apart. Eventually Krishna’s parents started looking for prospective husbands for her but she refused.

‘It was hard for my brother but he understood the situation,’ Sumit said. ‘Her family knew about their relationship before the marriage. They beat their daughter a lot and gave my brother warnings many times. In the end my brother told her to go ahead with the marriage, she had to. She went ahead with the marriage in Haryana but she was very unhappy. They treated her like a maid. So she left and returned home. And that’s when she and my brother started their relationship again.’

Ravi and Krishna had eloped twice before but had returned. Each time Sumit claimed her family beat her. ‘We made him understand it was dangerous. At the end of the day it’d be our family who would suffer. He understood what he was doing, he knew the risks but love took over. When the girl got in touch with him he just couldn’t contain his emotions. We are now helpless. His future is ruined completely and our family is in danger.’

He understood what he was doing, he knew the risks but love took over

Krishna’s family was so furious that the couple had eloped again they told the police Ravi was involved with drugs. When they were caught in Delhi at the end of May, Ravi was arrested and has been in Meerut Jail ever since.

Meenakshi and her family were already in Delhi when a neighbour called them to tell them it’s not safe to return to their village called Baghpat, in Uttar Pradesh, 30 miles from Delhi. It has approximately 250 Dalits compared to 7000 Jats.

Meenakshi said: ‘My father got a call from a neighbour and told us not to come back. They said that the Khap panchayat – that are all Jats – took the decision to rape my sister and me and parade us naked. They want revenge.

‘It is wrong. We did nothing wrong so why should my sister and me be punished. They loved each other and it is they who decided to go. Why should we suffer? We have not left the house, as we are scared they might send someone to attack us. I am finding it very difficult to cope. I am very scared. People today are still living in the caste system; it’s the root of everything here. Right now I do not have any hopes, our future is ruined.’

Sumit said: ‘I am still in shock that the Khap panchayat could be so disgusting. I knew it was going to be bad, I knew our family would be in trouble but I never expected this. The situation is getting worse and I do not see any hope.’

I knew our family would be in trouble but I never expected this

The family has appealed to the Supreme court for protection and Sumit has written to the Prime minister, Chief minister, Human Rights commission, schedule caste commission but no one has come forward to help yet.

Ravi got bail on June 26 but the family made the decision to keep him in prison because his life would be in danger if he was out on the streets.

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Advocate Rahul Tyagi, 39, poses for a picture in his office in New Delhi, India. © Cover Asia Press /Faisal Magray

Family’s lawyer Rahul Tyagi, 39, said: ‘We’ve been everywhere asking for action but nothing has been done. So now were are at the Supreme Court. We’ve asked a few things. No one has seen the girl so we are asking that the girl be produced before the court so we can ensure her safety and well being. We’ve also asked for an independent investigation into the false accusation of the boy. And thirdly, a case should be registered against UP police for torturing the Dalit family and finally some security so the family can return to their home. We are hopeful that the Supreme Court will come down heavily on these cases; I have every faith in the judicial system of this country.

‘These cases happen often in rural India. After media attention local politicians have come forward but still the family are in danger. But these cases would not happen in this country if the police act appropriately and did their job. The government officials have a duty to stop such atrocities.’

Meenakshi said that no one has seen Krishna since May and it is believed she is now allegedly saying that Ravi and Sumit held her captive for ten days in Delhi and raped her.

Meenakshi said: ‘She is now saying that my elder bother Sumit and Ravi raped her for 10 days. She is saying that Ravi told her that he would get her a job in Delhi because his brother is in the police so she came with him and there they forced her to have sex. But they have pressurized her. I know she loved my brother a lot. Loving someone is not wrong. But the girl is Jat and we are the untouchables. Where caste is concerned it is wrong, and this is all based on caste. But there is no caste in love.’