A man in northern India will be publicly slapped 51 times as punishment after village elders found him guilty of raping a neighbor who is deaf and mute, a village chief said Friday.

The elders stepped in to review the case because local police had failed to arrest the accused man after a complaint was filed by the victim's husband, village head Badr-ul Hasan told The Associated Press.

"Police told us that since the woman is deaf and mute, she is not able to narrate the incident," Hasan said.

Village courts generally settle land disputes and other disagreements among residents, not criminal offenses.

But many rape cases go unreported in India, especially in villages, since women fear further harassment by police, who often work with corrupt local politicians and landlords.

A village court made up of five elders heard from both sides on Wednesday. It found the man guilty, fined him $110 and ordered he be publicly slapped 51 times, Hasan said.

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"We can't do more than that. The village court doesn't have powers to arrest anyone," he said. "By public slapping, the court wants to put (him) to shame."

Communicating through hand signals, the woman, a mother of three, said she was raped in a field Sunday when returning home from work in Rampur, 205 miles northwest of Lucknow, the state capital of Uttar Pradesh.

Police inspector C.N. Singh said officers were still investigating her complaint.

"A case will be registered only if police find proof that the woman was raped. We are inquiring from children who were playing in the field then," Singh said.

If convicted by a state criminal court, the man could be sentenced to death.