The Supreme Court has ordered that the four cases related to the rape of a teenaged girl in which the main accused is a BJP MLA are to be transferred from Uttar Pradesh to a court in Delhi. This is a welcome step which also constitutes a strong indictment of the Adityanath Government. Today, the teen battles for her life in a Lucknow hospital. The wishes of countless citizens of India are with her willing her to recover, to survive this brutal crime.
When Nirbhaya died, we wept because of the brutality she had faced, the immense courage she had shown, because what happened to her symbolized the terrifying backlash against a young woman's freedom. Every young woman out in the protests that shook India at the time had a similar thought - this could have been me.
The message from the Unnao case has another dimension drenched in the stench of power: a license to men in power to rape and kill with the knowledge that they have protection. No civilized society can remain silent in the face of such evil.
If today few believe that it was a random road accident in which she and her lawyer suffered grievous injuries and which killed two of her relatives, it is because of the blatant subversion of the processes of justice by the ruling party and its government and administration. From the beginning they have provided protection-- political administrative and legal --not to the rape survivor, but to the accused.
She was just 17 years old when she was raped in June 2017. The police refused to name in the FIR the perpetrator she had identified, Kuldeep Singh Sengar, MLA. For a year, the teenager struggled to get the rapist named and arrested but he had the full protection of his party. With the police refusing to take action, her family filed a case on her behalf in the Unnao CJM court in February 2018 to register an FIR against the MLA.
After the hearings started, her father was picked up by the MLA's brother and his gang and brutally beaten. But instead of arresting the criminals, the police arrested her father on false charges under the Arms Act. In despair, she tried to immolate herself before the residence of the Chief Minister. The day after, on April 9, her father died in police custody.
At the time, a team of the All India Democratic Women's Association had gone to Unnao to meet the traumatized survivor. Madhu Garg, one of the members, recalls that the girl had described that terrible day saying that her father had been tied to a tree and repeatedly beaten with lathis by the MLA's brother and supporters while her mother wept and begged them to stop. "They said he would be killed if he did not withdraw the court case. .. now they have killed him, they will kill all of us."
It was only after her father's custodial death that her case got reported in the media and pressure built up on the Chief Minister and his government. The case was referred to the CBI. Sengar and his brother were arrested. But the nightmare for the girl and her family did not end. Even though the CBI filed three cases, the trial did not start in a single case. Today, the Supreme Court ordered that all the cases must be completed in 45 days. What does this mean? There was deliberate sabotage of the cases by the UP Government for the last year. Under the POSCO Act, cases of sexual assault on minors have to be completed within a fixed time frame of two months. But the UP government flagrantly violated the Act. They thus provided legal protection to the accused to use the time to harass and threaten the victim and her family.
For the last year, the family have been threatened. They have been forced to move from one place to another. They shifted to Delhi to be with their uncle. He had taken on the role of her father to support her struggle for justice. But he too was arrested in a 20-year-old case and is now locked up in jail. Thus, the young survivor was deprived of any support. It was to visit him in jail that the girl and her aunts had taken that fateful ride.
They were provided security but the personnel were not provided with a vehicle. The administration is blaming her for not taking them along. The rape survivor is expected to use her scarce resources to cover the expenses of travel for her security guard. Is this not a complete mockery of the minimum administrative sensitivity required in such cases? When security is provided for VIPs, there is a whole convoy of cars involved. But not for a young woman rape survivor threatened by powerful men. The family wrote numerous letters to the government to the administration to the local district magistrate. There was no response. This is a measure of the administrative support given to the accused.
The BJP has expelled Sengar from the party today. This is too little , too late and is intended to deflect public anger against the role of the party, its leaders and government. It was precisely the power he wielded as an MLA and protection he got from the top that stretched through the walls of the jail to intimidate, threaten and destroy the victim and her family.
Soon after the Lok Sabha elections, Sakshi Maharaj, a parliamentarian from the BJP, visited the accused in jail to "thank Sengar" for his support during the elections calling him a most "popular lawmaker." The glorification of rape-accused by elected representatives of the people is an aspect of rape culture which has not been that common in India. But clearly this is about to change, going by the standards being set by the BJP. Why was he not stripped of his MLA-ship by the party? Why did they not get him to resign? Why was he only suspended and not expelled? This was the political protection he got.
Each one of her family who supported this courageous young woman, her father, her uncle, her aunts have become victims in this terrible display of power. The Supreme Court intervention has brought some relief. It is surely the responsibility of each one of us to stand in her support and solidarity and to ensure that power cannot silence justice.
Brinda Karat is a Politburo member of the CPI(M) and a former Member of the Rajya Sabha.
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