Unnao: Will justice be done?

Beti Bachao: What happens in this case will tell us much about the regime we are living under

Unnao rape

In her quest for justice, this teen, a resident of Uttar Pradesh’s Unnao district, about 60 kilometres from the state capital of Lucknow, after being allegedly raped by BJP lawmaker Kuldeep Singh Sengar and subsequently abducted and gang-raped by his goons, is now battling for her life in a hospital in Rae Bareli, after a truck rammed the car in which she, her aunts and her lawyer were travelling on July 28. Her lawyer is battling for life, too; her two aunts are dead. In fact, four members of her family, including her father, have already paid the price for joining her fight with their lives.

None of this would probably have come to light and made headlines nationwide had the rape survivor not made an attempt in April last year to set herself on fire in front of Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath’s residence, demanding that a case be registered and action taken against the MLA.

Instead, the next day, her father, who had been assaulted by Sengar’s brother and his goons, died in police custody. The police had taken her father to prison, instead of to a hospital, while letting off Kuldeep Sengar’s brother Atul Sengar and his goons.

On July 28, the cops in her security detail -- who were supposed to accompany her everywhere and protect her – curiously did not go with her as she set out to visit her uncle, jailed on trumped-up charges made by Sengar’s brother in an 18-year-old case, when a truck with a blackened licence plate rammed into her car in an ‘accident’.   

The gut-wrenching story of the Unnao girl begins in June 2017, just three months after Kuldeep Sengar had won his fourth term in the Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections in March that year, this time on a BJP ticket. The girl, then 17, had gone to ‘Maamu’, as she called Sengar – their families had known each other for long and her father, in fact, worked for him – seeking help to get a job. Instead, she has alleged, Sengar had taken her to his room and raped her, while his goons stood guard outside. He had let her go after threatening to kill her father and her four-year-old brother if she complained to police. A few days later, Sengar’s goons abducted her and gang-raped her for over a week. They sought to sell her off for Rs 60,000 and had even struck a deal, but by then her mother had lodged a missing complaint and had persisted until the police started looking for the girl. When the police traced her to a nearby town, the goons left her and fled.

She went to the police despite the threats, but the police refused to record her complaint. On June 22, 2017, she recorded her statement before a judicial magistrate, but nothing happened. In August 2017, she wrote her first letter in the case -- to Chief Minister Adityanath. Nothing happened for 10 months.

Until she attempted to set herself on fire in front of the chief minister’s house on April 8, 2018, fearing for the life of her father. The next day, her father died in police custody.

The chief minister, apprehensive that the high court was about to take matters into its own hands and give orders, ordered a CBI investigation into the case. It was only then that Kuldeep Sengar was arrested. While he continues to be in jail and a charge sheet was filed in the court, the trial had not begun until last week, when the Supreme Court ordered that the trial be finished in 45 days. Will the girl survive the July 28 ‘accident’ and live to win justice for herself?     

Considering the record so far, it would be a miracle if the girl survived, and it would be an even greater miracle if she got justice for all the loss and trauma she and her family have suffered. Consider this: the BJP, the all-dominating ruling party – both in Uttar Pradesh and at the Centre – felt no need to distance itself from Sengar for two years after the rape allegations surfaced and even after the July 28 ‘accident’, a modus operandi that fooled no one. It was only after the media – and this time even the ‘godi media’, given to serving the Narendra Modi-Amit Shah BJP faithfully – made a hue and cry and the party feared embarrassment that Sengar was finally expelled from the party.

Consider that the girl and her family have written as many as 34 letters to various authorities seeking investigation, action against the culprits, protection for herself and her family, but to little avail. Even the letter she wrote to Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi in mid-July did not find its way to his attention until after the horrific ‘accident’ on July 28 and the family revealed that she had indeed sent such a letter to the CJI.  

Consider also that for over two years, and even with Sengar in jail, the girl and her family have been continuously threatened and sought to be harmed at every turn. “We will eliminate your entire family if you do not withdraw the complaint,’’ Sengar himself reportedly told the family, according to the girl’s uncle Mahesh Singh.

And Sengar seems to have gone about doing exactly that. Within days of the lawmaker’s arrest, the girl’s father was assaulted, arrested and died in police custody. A few days later, a key witness in the case, Yunus Khan, died under mysterious circumstances. His family members buried him without even informing the CBI.

When the rape survivor’s family cried foul, the cops claimed that Khan’s death was due to natural causes. Then came the July 28 ‘accident’, leaving the girl and her lawyer fighting for life, her aunts dead on the spot. The three policemen supposed to protect her did not accompany them in the car, and it has now been found that the truck’s licence plate was blackened just hours before the ‘accident’.

‘’Sengar may get me killed, too, inside the jail, just like my brother was,’’ the uncle, who was arrested last year in an 18-year-old case, said. The Supreme Court has ordered that he be shifted from the Rae Bareli jail to Tihar jail in Delhi.

The Unnao rape victim’s story has exposed the nexus between politicians and police in Uttar Pradesh and the failure of the justice system.

The entire police machinery in Unnao district simply surrendered before the ruling party lawmaker. The local police connived with the MLA and harassed the victim’s family and implicated them in false cases.

An audiotape and a video that emerged a day after the death of the girl’s father in custody shows some people taking his thumb impression on pieces of paper as he lay in a semi-conscious state on a bed at the Unnao district hospital. According to sources, the video had been shot a few hours before his death, allegedly after being tortured by Sengar’s goons. The audiotape, said to be of a telephonic conversation between the girl’s father and Sengar, revealed that the MLA had asked the man to not pursue the case.

All this has also exposed the Yogi Adityanath government, which had been boasting that it had improved the law and order situation in the state. The July 28 ‘accident’ happened on a day the BJP president and the nation’s Home Minister Amit Shah was giving Adityanath a pat for acting tough on criminals and ensuring a ‘bhaymukt’ (free from fear) state!

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