A village council in the Indian state of Bihar has banned cellphones for women, saying the phones were leading to elopements. Women’s rights activists were outraged at the move.

The Sunderbari village council in a Muslim area east of Patna, Bihar’s capital, has also imposed a fine of 10 000 rupees (R1 615) if a girl is caught using a cellphone on the streets. Married women must pay 2 000 rupees.

Manuwar Alam, who heads a committee tasked with enforcing the ban, said the number of elopements and extramarital love affairs had risen in the past few months, with at least six girls and women fleeing their homes.

“Even married women were deserting their husbands to elope with lovers. That was shameful for us,” Alam said. “So, we decided to tackle it firmly. Mobile phones are debasing the social atmosphere.”

Local officials have begun investigations, saying such bans cannot be allowed in a healthy society, while women’s rights activists called it an assault on freedom that could strip women of protection from trouble, such as unwanted advances by men.

Activist Suman Lal said: “Technology is meant to be used… The order is nauseating.”

Fellow activist Mohammad Islam was disappointed that the village council had ignored the advantages of cellphones before banning them for just one reason.

Every girl should have a cellphone to call her family in times of trouble, he said. – Reuters