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Last Updated: Thursday, 18 September, 2003, 18:00 GMT 19:00 UK
Shamed woman wins case
By Sampath Kumar
BBC correspondent in Madras

A woman who fainted after villagers forced her to spend five hours on her knees, bowing up and down, has won redress from a court in southern India.

Indian women
Rights groups say prejudice is rife - and educated women are not immune

The High Court in Madras (Chennai) rebuked the members of a village council for imposing the punishment upon the married woman.

The council decided to humiliate her after she demanded a divorce from her husband.

Village councils have no legal right to issue punishments.

Suganthi, 32, sought to divorce her husband, an engineer.

After hearing the case, the village council ordered her to pay a fine of 50,000 rupees (roughly $1,000).

Suganthi, an educated woman employed by the state-owned telecoms company, said she could not afford the fine.

She was then told that she could reduce the amount of money she owed by prostrating herself repeatedly before the village council.

After bowing up and down for more than five hours, the fine was reduced to 19,000 rupees - but by this time, Suganthi could bear it no more and passed out.

Illiterate women worse off

She eventually handed over the remaining amount of money, but refused to surrender custody of her children to her husband when asked to do so.

Suganthi then filed a petition asking the High Court to intervene in her case when her mother was threatened with expulsion from the village.

The judge ordered the money be paid back.

Women's rights groups say Suganthi's case is particularly shocking, as it highlights how even educated women in Indian villages are not immune from misogyny and prejudice.

They say the condition of illiterate women is far worse.

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