Hall of shame

The way the Yogi Adityanath government has dealt with the Unnao rape case has caused a setback for itself and the BJP, which came to power in Uttar Pradesh promising, among others, improved law and order.

Published : Apr 25, 2018 12:30 IST

BJP legislator Kuldeep Singh Sengar, the Unnao rape case accused, being produced at a CBI court in Lucknow on April 14.

BJP legislator Kuldeep Singh Sengar, the Unnao rape case accused, being produced at a CBI court in Lucknow on April 14.

It took an order from a bench of the Allahabad High Court consisting of Chief Justice D.B. Bhonsale and Justice Sumeet Kumar castigating the Uttar Pradesh law and order machinery for the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to arrest Kuldeep Singh Sengar, Member of the Legislative Assembly from Bangarmau constituency in Uttar Pradesh’s Unnao district, for the alleged rape of a minor girl by him on June 4, 2017. The court had taken suo motu cognisance of the case, and Sengar was arrested on April 13, 2018, a day after the High Court passed the order.

Indeed, the High Court’s acknowledgement of the alleged crime ensued from a series of more recent developments relating to the original complaint. These included a self-immolation attempt by the rape victim in front of Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath’s official residence and the death of the victim’s father, Surendra Singh, in the custody of the Unnao police two days before the court took notice of the case. The court also took note of the fact that the victim’s father had died following a merciless beating, reportedly by goons associated with Sengar and police personnel.

The scathing 20-page order of the High Court said: “The disturbing feature of the case is that the law and order machinery and the government officials were directly in league and under the influence of Kuldeep Singh. The doctor did not examine the prosecutrix, nor did the Circle Officer, Shafipur, register the crime, though a handwritten complaint of the prosecutrix was sent from the office of the Chief Minister. On petty offence, father of prosecutrix was beaten up by the brother and the goons of Kuldeep Singh and was arrested and in the custody was beaten mercilessly. It further appears that false cases were lodged against the family members. Finally, father of the prosecutrix succumbed to injuries. The prosecutrix, unable to face the pressures exercised upon her by Kuldeep Singh, who was having the backing of the law and order machinery of district Unnao, attempted to immolate herself to draw the attention of the society that she needs help and protection of the custodians of law, which was put to the winds at the behest of the accused [sic].”

The order went on to observe that “this is a classic case where we find that the accused persons have not left a single stone unturned to terrorise not only victim/prosecutrix but her family members and other witnesses. The victim has lost her father merely because cognisance was not taken of her complaint made in August 2017. Had the police taken cognisance of the complaint to the Chief Minister and forwarded [it] to the concerned police station at that stage, perhaps, further damage, including the death of prosecutrix’s father, would not have taken place.”

Manifest terror

The concerns expressed in the High Court order exposed the state of law and order administration in Uttar Pradesh, sending shock waves across the country. Travel to Unnao, barely 65 kilometres from the State capital of Lucknow, and further ahead to Makhi village, which is another 15 km from Unnao town and has the residences of both Sengar and the victim, and one comes across the manifestations of the terror associated with Sengar and his family and associates. Frontline travelled to the village on the second day after Sengar’s arrest. Even 10 km from Makhi, the mere mention of Sengar’s name was met with a frightened silence. Standard responses to references to the rape and murder case were feigned ignorance either about the matter or its details.

Sengar’s clout at Makhi is pronounced, even in terms of the physical structures. In an otherwise nondescript village dotted with small houses and huts, the biggest building is the sprawling “Virendra Singh Siksha Niketan Inter College”, which is located in the compound of Sengar’s residence. A number of college buses were on the college premises. Of course, the college and its other properties belong to the Sengar family. In stark contrast to the situation elsewhere in the vicinity, raised voices could be heard in this compound. A group of 25 to 30 people, including a few women, had gathered on the veranda of Sengar’s house, all vociferously proclaiming the “vidhayak’s” (legislator) innocence. Talking for the group, Rajiv Singh, a teacher as he claimed, blamed the media and some political adversaries, in that order, for the current problems faced by the MLA. “It is the conspiracy of the media and his opponents, some of them may be from his own party, that has set up the case. We are sure that ultimately he will come out of all this,” Rajiv Singh told Frontline .

The victim’s small house, barely 100 metres behind Sengar’s, remained locked. A row of huts across the same lane had been taken over by a large contingent of police personnel, including women, apparently posted there after the arrest of the legislator and his associates and his brother Atul Sengar. Inquiries in this part of the hamlet were once again met with silence or cryptic shrugs of the shoulder or half-smiles. Not one person had an opinion.

As Frontline was heading back from the village after about an hour, a person claiming to be a lower-level official in a government department uttered one sentence in a hushed voice before walking away hurriedly. “For decades the village and surrounding areas have lived in terror of the Sengar family, especially the vidhayak’s brothers; their ways are ruthless and lethal,” he said.

In Lucknow, Ramesh Dixit, State president of the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), confirmed this from his own ground-level reports. “It is this ruthlessness and lethality that the victim’s father experienced through his death on April 10 and what the victim as well as her whole family were forced to endure for long,” he said. The senior NCP leader pointed out that the reports of the harassment as they have come out now, including the investigation reports of some sections of the official machinery, showed that while the girl had been allegedly raped on June 4, 2017, thereafter she was repeatedly gang-raped by several persons who are considered associates of Sengar.

The girl’s father made a complaint soon enough, and a first information report (FIR) was registered under Sections 363, 366, 376 and 506 of the Indian Penal Code and Sections 3 and 4 of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act. The complaint indeed named Kuldeep Singh Sengar as the main accused. Still, he was not arrested though many of his associates were charge-sheeted on the basis of the complaint. The investigation reports also reveal how police personnel and doctors were under the influence of Sengar and how they tampered with evidence and tried to create terror and intimidate the girl and her family members.

From pillar to post

This sequence of events was highlighted by Senior Advocate Gopal S. Chaturvedi, who brought the issue to the notice of the High Court. Detailing the sequence, he pointed out that “the girl and her family were literally running from pillar to post, but her complaint was not registered, even after she approached Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath”. He added: “The influence of the accused Kuldeep Singh in the district police administration was such that the Circle Officer also declined to lodge the report on the complaint duly forwarded by the office of the Chief Minister. The Medical Officer declined to examine the girl and even the procedure for taking down the FIR was not followed. The complaint was not reduced to writing by a female police personnel and videographed. False cases, of petty offence, were lodged against the uncle of the girl. On April 3, her father was assaulted by the legislator’s brother Atul Sengar and his accomplices. Though both sides lodged complaints against each other, the police chose to arrest only her father, who was sent to judicial custody. Later, he was rushed to the district hospital after he complained of vomiting and abdominal pain. The Chief Medical Officer furnished a fitness certificate and sent him to jail where he succumbed to his injuries. It is after this that the media gave wide coverage to the incident.”

This led to Chaturvedi’s intervention and to the court taking cognisance of the case and later Chaturvedi’s appointment as amicuscuriae . The April 12 order of the High Court made stringent comments on the Advocate General too, who had sought to defend the State government. The order said that “the approach of the learned Advocate General is not only appalling but shocks the conscience of the court... as it not only exudes an unpleasant flavour, but raises doubts about the bona fides of the police authorities at the highest level”.

As things stood in the third week of April, the case was transferred to the CBI, which registered three separate FIRs in the case. Two police officers and four constables were suspended for negligence and mala fide considerations. Both Kuldeep Sengar and Atul Sengar were in the custody of investigative agencies. However, the victim and the remaining members of her family were scared to go back to Makhi. They were constrained to stay away from the village in hotel rooms at Unnao.

Although the victim and her close relatives were of the view that the arrests of the accused were a positive development, they were not sure how the investigation would ultimately progress, especially given the climate of terror that persists in the region as a whole and specifically in Makhi. In terms of details, they wondered whether the post-mortem report on the victim’s father, which held that “ prima facie he had died of shock and septicemia” caused by “peritonitis and ascending colon perforation”, would be reviewed closely. Investigation reports assert that the body had 14 ante-mortem injury marks in the form of abrasions, contusions and blunt-type injuries. “The biggest question is how far focussed public attention will stay on the proceedings of the case and the investigation. If that relaxes, the government machinery may well fall back into its usual ways, aimed at protecting the high and the mighty,” said a close relative of the victim, without wanting to be named.

Whatever the net result of the investigations, there is little doubt that the Unnao rape case has caused a massive political setback for the Yogi Adityanath government and the BJP. Over a year ago, when the government took over, one of its primary promises was improvement of the law and order situation in India’s most populous State. Both the Chief Minister and his party had characterised the outgoing Akhilesh Yadav-led Samajwadi Party government as one of criminals and had promised deliverance to the State’s populace from this. But the Unnao rape case and related developments on a number sexual offences involving several BJP leaders have blown these claims to smithereens. So much so that significant sections of the BJP’s associates in the larger Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh-led Sangh Parivar as well as in the National Democratic Alliance are openly expressing their disenchantment with regard to the current dispensation.

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