On Sunday, the self-appointed village council of Sunderbari within the state of Bihar in India prohibited the use of mobile phones by unmarried women and girls. The use of mobile phones by married women has also been restricted to when they are indoors and in the company of a relative. The ban resulted from fear of immoral relationships outside of marriage increasing due to the use of the use of mobile phones. Women who violate the ruling can face severe fines of up to 10,000 rupees.
Members of the all-male panchayat (an informal, but respected council of village leaders) justified their ruling by arguing that the reputation of their village has been compromised by the handful of single women who have eloped with their partners as well as some married women who have left their husbands by eloping with their current partners. Manuwar Alam, head of the committee to enforce the new ban, said that it was shameful every time someone asked who had eloped. “So, we decided to tackle it firmly,” he told Reuters, “Mobile phones are debasing the social atmosphere.”
Women’s rights activist Jagmati Sangwan, the vice president of the All India Democratic Women’s Association, claims the ban is illegal and the village councils “want women to get cut off from the processes of modernization, education and employment.” Another activist, Suman Lal, described the ban as “nauseating” on a debate on local television.
Women have been the target of other village councils, according to the New York Times. In the Bagpat district of Uttar Pradesh, the panchayat banned unarranged marriages and the ability of women under the age of 40 to attend markets. In addition, these councils have also lowered the age of marriage to 16 in response to an increase in sexual assault, predicting that this adjustment will “keep women sexually satisfied.” The new ban that restricts women from using mobile phones is under investigation.