5 charity workers gang-raped in India

New Delhi

Violence against women is a chronic problem in India, where roughly 40,000 rape cases were alleged in 2016 and two teenage girls were raped and set on fire in Jharkhand last month.

Five women, working with a NGO, were allegedly raped at gunpoint by a group of at least five men when they had gone to Chochang village in Khunti district in Jharkhand to create awareness on migration and human trafficking, police said on Friday.

Police officials on Thursday confirmed that more than three men were involved in the incident. We are trying to identify the criminals.

"We are not ruling out the possibility of the involvement of trafficking gangs and are investigating all aspects", police Ashwini Kumar Sinha told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

"After performing, they headed towards a local mission school", senior police official AV Homkar told BBC Hindi's Niraj Sinha.

"The heinous crime was committed apparently by supporters of this movement, who wanted to send a message to NGOs and government agencies to stay clear of their villages, " the police officer said.

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Asha Kiran's project director in Ranchi, Sister Julia George, said the men forced the five women "into the same vehicle by which the Asha Kiran group were traveling and drove some kilometers away from the place".

Police said the attackers were supporters of Pathalgadi, a tribal system that considers the village council the sole authority governing the village and which does not recognise the state's authority. The gang took in the nearby forests and took turns in raping the victims for over three hours.

The suspect's whereabouts are unknown, so authorities announced a reward of 50,000 rupees ($737) for whoever helps locate him. The individuals were attacked because they were outsiders.

This is the latest high-profile sexual assault in India.

Police said an initial complaint was filed on Wednesday evening.

"CBS News reported that the men accused of kidnapping and raping the 16-year-old at a wedding ceremony in Chatra, Jharkhand, bludgeoned the victim's parents when they were slapped with an appalling £550 fine before setting the teenager alight when finding her home alone".

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