India polls: Woman alleges gang-rape punishment for election work

PATNA (AFP) - A Muslim woman in eastern India has alleged she was gang-raped by more than a dozen men because of her work helping the Hindu nationalist opposition in ongoing elections, police said Tuesday.

The woman from Jharkhand state has filed a complaint with police that a mob attacked her in her home on Monday and also assaulted her 13-year-old daughter. Her husband was allegedly handcuffed during the attack.

Anurag Gupta, a senior officer and spokesman for Jharkhand police, confirmed an investigation had started but said it was too soon to confirm her allegations of a political motive for the attack.

"An investigation from all angles is on and it is very difficult at present to say the exact reason behind the incident," Gupta told AFP.

The victim, in her 30s, was part of a so-called "minority" wing of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) designed to attract Muslim voters to the party, which is expected to sweep the ongoing polls.

Few Muslims are expected to vote for the BJP, which is being led by hardliner Narendra Modi who remains tarnished by religious riots in his home state of Gujarat in 2002.

Modi, forecast by voter surveys to become prime minister after results are announced on May 16, was chief minister of Gujarat when the riots broke out. More than 1,000 people were killed, most of them Muslims.

Despite criticism that he failed to contain the violence, he has been cleared of any personal wrongdoing. A woman he later appointed to his Cabinet has been jailed for life for directing rioters.

Women's issues are high on the agenda in the parliamentary elections following the fatal gang-rape of a student on a New Delhi bus in December 2012, which touched off a national debate about sexual violence.

But fewer than a fifth of the candidates standing for the BJP or the ruling Congress party are women, according to an analysis by AFP.

In the current parliament women hold only 11 per cent of seats in both houses.

The victim in Monday's assault also alleged the attackers fled with 30,000 rupees (S$623) in cash and jewellery worth over 200,000 rupees.

Police inspector T. N. Singh in the police station closest to the victim's home confirmed the gang-rape complaint to AFP.

He said villagers had used the loudspeaker of the mosque to alert others to the assault, after which the attackers fled.