A 48-year-old woman and her newly married 19-year-old daughter were allegedly “punished” in the village of Vaishali, in the eastern state of Bihar, for fighting off a local ward councillor.
Police said Mohammad Khurshid and his accomplices entered the women’s home, assaulted them and when they were beaten back decided to mete out the public insult as revenge.
The ward councillor, a barber and three others were arrested by police on Thursday, after a video of the incident went viral on social media.
Station House Officer Sanjay Kumar of Bhagwanpur police station confirmed the incident and said that the matter is under investigation.
He said that half a dozen people barged into the victims’ house and attempted to rape the daughter. After the mother tried to rescue her daughter, the accused physically assaulted the two women.
One of the accused beat them with wooden sticks, dragged them outside their house and held a “panchayat” – a village council meeting, more often akin to a kangaroo court.
Mr Khurshid called a barber and ordered him to shave the women’s heads, and paraded them across the village, said SHO Kumar.
“Around 6.30 pm, half a dozen armed men forcibly entered my house and attempted to rape me”, the daughter told the police, reported the Press Trust of India (PTI).
“When my mother tried to save me, they started beating us”, she added.
According to PTI, witnesses said that Mr Khurshid had claimed the women were involved in a prostitution racket.
Shaving someone’s head is a method of insulting and shaming them, as well as a mark of grieving for dead relatives, especially among Hindus and Buddhists.
Indian media referred to the women being “tonsured” – which is when monks or nuns have their locks shorn before entering religious orders.
Even in a country with a notoriously high level of sexual crime against women the case has sparked outrage for the assumed impunity with which the suspects acted.