As India wends its way from Third World to First World, it is useful to remember that it is an enormously diverse nation that contains not only tech companies celebrated by Tom Friedman, but also swaths of backwards countryside where rape is a common quasi-legal punishment.

Preetika Rana's gut-churning Wall Street Journal story today contains specific details of multiple incidents in rural India in which women (and men) in isolated villages were punished with sexual assault by "village elders" for such crimes as marrying a Muslim, or eloping with a married person. It is the sort of brutal and primitive notion of justice that should sicken the world even by existing in isolated instances. To have it persist as a cultural institution is beyond the pale. One example of punishment for a rural women who planned to marry her Muslim boyfriend:

The village chief "directed" villagers to "enjoy" the woman as punishment, according to her allegations in a police report, which was reviewed by The Wall Street Journal. The chief, Balai Mardi, allegedly joined in the rape, police say.

The next morning, police and witnesses in the village say, elders met in the square to pass judgment on the couple, who were tied to a nearby palm tree. They imposed an $800 fine on the couple for deciding to marry outside the community.

This kind of vigilantism by local goons bears some resemblance to the activities of the Klan in the southern U.S. prior to the civil rights movement. If India's rural women can't get their own National Guard, they should at least get their own version of the Black Panthers.

[Photo: AP]