A 17-year-old girl in Unnao district’s Makhi village in Uttar Pradesh is at the centre of a rape case and subsequent murders that took the national media by storm last month. The terrible tragedy of the Unnao case is not the crime itself, but the collective failure of the state machinery, judiciary and the media which woke up only two years after the incident to pursue the case and that too after a horrific, suspicious fatal road accident.
The victim and her lawyer are critically injured while her mother and aunt lost their lives in an accident that appeared to be orchestrated by Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) MLA Kuldeep Singh Sengar, her alleged rapist. Two years ago, the victim had to resort to a suicide threat to get media attention for her case against the local politician.
Since the case was handed to the Crime Bureau of India (CBI), the investigating agency had registered an FIR against Sengar and others in the case. However, it was only on August 1 that the BJP sacked Sengar from the party.
The woman had alleged that in 2017, while seeking a job, she was allegedly held captive by Sengar and his brother who raped her for eight days. However, her real ordeal began after she and her father Surendra Singh tried to lodge an FIR against Sengar and his brother Atul Singh but were thrown out of the Makhi Police Station instead.
The duo then approached the local court and managed to get a case registered against the accused despite threats to their lives. She said despite the court case, the Unnao Police took no action against Sengar.
The victim and her family said they met Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath with their complaint against Sengar but no action followed. Family members said they were under tremendous pressure to withdraw the court case or face consequences.
The victim’s father and uncle were put in jail in an 18-year-old case in early April. After the family’s requests for his release and treatment were ignored by senior Unnao police officials, the family rushed to state capital Lucknow again on April 8, either to get justice from the CM or commit suicide.
When the Chief Minister was out of town, the victim attempted to commit suicide along with her family outside the CM’s house at Kalidas Marg. It was this dramatic act that caught the media attention and her ordeal soon became national news.
On April 9, the case took a more serious turn when the victim’s father died in police custody. Video clips of the father being brutally beaten by younger brother Atul Sengar emerged on social media and went viral.
The Yogi Adityanath government quickly ordered a magisterial inquiry and assured action against the guilty. An FIR was finally lodged but only after dropping the name of Sengar’s brother.
It was only after opposition parties and the media mounted pressure on the government that the BJP MLA’s brother Atul Singh was arrested on April 10 while Kuldeep Sengar was arrested on April 13.
The father’s autopsy report suggested that he died of shock and septicaemia owing to severe internal haemorrhage and damage to the intestine. It also bore 16 external injury marks, suggesting physical torture.
After widespread protests, Prime Minister Narendra Modi condemned the incident.
On July 12, just two weeks before a truck with a blackened number plate rammed into the car she and her family members were travelling in, the victim had written to the Chief Justice of India (CJI) claiming a threat to her and her family’s life.
The family said the kin of the accused threatened them to settle case otherwise they would be implicated in false cases. The letter also stated that the accused had told them that they had bribed the judge and secured the bail of the accused.
Both the rape victim and the lawyer have been on life support since the accident.
Despite the public outrage following the accident, the BJP expelled the four-time UP legislator Sengar only on August 1. However BJP was not alone in being associated with Sengar who has been in all political parties in UP starting with the Congress, then joining the Bahujan Samaj Party before having a stint with Samajwadi Party and finally landing in the BJP.
The case has become a classic example of how powerful politicians in the country are protected despite their involvement in criminal activities. For this case to reach its logical conclusion, the survival of the Unnao victim is paramount. Too many have died already in this gut-wrenching tale of politics and power failing our judicial system.