The women, who work with a non-governmental organisation (NGO) supported by local Christian missionaries, were staging street plays against human trafficking in Khunti, a predominantly tribal district on Tuesday, when they were attacked.
“As the play was in progress, a group of six armed men came on bikes and beat up the men accompanying them.
“They then took the women away at gunpoint to the forests nearby where they were sexually assaulted,’’ a local police officer said requesting anonymity.
The victims, aged between 19 and 35, were later released.
They filed a police complaint on Wednesday, while police arrested one of the suspects on Thursday and detained several more for questioning.
Medical tests to confirm the sexual assault were being conducted.
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 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.
Media reports said the rapists made a video and used it to threaten the women with exposure if they complained.
Attacks on women, particularly sexual violence, have been a focus in India since the fatal gang rape of a student on a bus in New Delhi in 2012 triggered mass protests. (dpa/NAN)