A 19-year-old rape victim is fighting for her life in hospital after a key eyewitness, her father and aunts died in mysterious circumstances. Her accused is a powerful politician and a member of India's ruling BJP.
A rape survivor is fighting for her life after a speeding truck with blackened number plates hit the car in which she was travelling with her two aunts and lawyer in Rae Bareli, a district in the north Indian state of Uttar Pradesh on July 28.
The rape survivor and her lawyer are critically injured and currently on ventilators in hospital. The two family members — both the maternal and paternal aunts of the victim — died at the scene. The truck owner and driver have been arrested.
Alleged to have been a premeditated attack, there are fears the escalation of the case signals the rise of structural gender-based violence in the country.
A 12-member-team of India's premier investigating agency, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), has taken over the investigation. The Chief Justice of India, Ragan Gogoi has ordered the CBI to complete the car accident investigation within seven days along with updates of daily trial commencement hearings. The Supreme Court has also ordered the government of Uttar Pradesh state to pay $35,905 (Rs 2.5 million) as an immediate compensation to the victim.
The blood-curdling case of the Unnao rape victim and the alleged ‘pre-mediated murder attempt’ created public uproar as it highlighted the obnoxious nexus between police and politicians, the egregious failure of the investigation and loopholes within the judicial functioning of India due to systemic bureaucratic challenges.
Police fails to investigate, the BJP controls the politics of rape
The victim was allegedly raped on June 4, 2017, by Kuldeep Singh Sengar and his aides, a fourth term Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) in Uttar Pradesh. Sengar hails from Bangermau town in Unnao district in Uttar Pradesh and is a member of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
The victim’s complaint was registered by the Uttar Pradesh (UP) police only after she went public in 2018 and threatened to self-immolate herself in front of the residence of Yogi Aditynath, the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh (also part of the BJP party). The hesitation of police to register her complaint, at least for an entire year, reveals the anarchic, disruptive and compromised justice system prevalent in India.
This development should be scrutinised within the context of gross under-reporting of sexual violence against women and children in India. The 2015-16 report by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) estimated that 91.9 percent of cases involving gender-based and sexual violence are not reported in India.
India does not have a policy framework or survey to collect empirical data related to nation-wide crime. Thus, the National Family Health Survey (NFHS) — with International Institute for Population Sciences as its nodal agency — stated that minuscule conviction rates and lack of police trust are the major challenges in reporting rape in India.
Due to public outrage, Sengar was arrested on April 13, 2018, under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act. In spite of the gravity of the complaint, the BJP did not terminate his candidacy and only suspended him. It was after growing public outrage against the murder accusation the BJP recently expelled Sengar.
Interestingly, it has been revealed that Sengar (along with his aides) knew about the movements of the victim’s car on Sunday. Although the victim was given protection by assigning seven security personnel, not a single one was found present during the accident.
After the fatal accident on Sunday, police began investigating Sengar and 10 others for allegedly orchestrating the road accident. A case against criminal intimidation and conspiracy has also been lodged against the accused along with 20 other unnamed men. The identities and respective allegations regarding these unnamed men remain hidden.
Victim’s father tortured in prison, eye-witness dies
The victim’s father, AK Singh, was thrashed and mercilessly beaten by Atul Singh Sengar (the brother of Kuldeep Singh Sengar) and his aides on April 3, 2018.
He was later arrested under Arms Act, 1959. No evidence or proceedings in this arrest were made available for media scrutiny. Singh died a week later due to alleged police torture.
The CBI has supposedly charged five people in relation to his death, including Sengar’s brother. The key eye-witness of this police torture was Mohammed Yunus, 32, who was also later arrested for possessing illegal weapons. He later died mysteriously.
In a nutshell, the Unnao rape case has suffered — for the past two years — due to the growing tacit alliances between police and politicians in the ultra-nationalistic political regime in the country.
The series of mysterious deaths, intimidation, abuse and torture faced by the victim’s family reveals the egregious price paid for justice. Although the CBI aims to investigate the case and its various details, the accused has used his political clout to shield himself. He has been expelled from the party but he continues to be an elected lawmaker in the state.
Will the victim recover after the accident? If she recovers, what are the different security arrangements, recuperation and counselling opportunities that will be made available for her? Today, the victim remains unknown, a mere breaking news story. But tomorrow, it could be any other woman or child. The Indian judicial system needs to gear up, tackle its systemic challenges and deliver justice, if the very idea of India is to be preserved.
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