New Delhi: Convicting Kuldeep Singh Sengar, the former BJP MLA from Unnao, for raping a teenager in June 2017, a special court in Delhi has noted that the defence in the case had “chosen to demolish” the survivor’s character with its line of questioning.
District and sessions judge Dharmesh Sharma observed that the woman was “subjected to a lengthy, searching and almost gruelling cross-examination” but concluded that her testimony was “unblemished” and of “sterling quality”.
Her evidence was recorded in the seminar hall of the AIIMS trauma centre, following the car accident in July in which both her aunts died. The family and her lawyers were on their way to Rae Bareli.
The survivor’s mother, who too sustained injuries in the accident, had called it a conspiracy by Sengar and his associates.
In its 136-page order, the court noted that the defence tried to discredit her on the basis of another set of allegations she had made about being abducted by five people who took her to Kanpur and allegedly gangraped her. The defence had tried to highlight certain discrepancies in the victim’s testimony on the basis of statements made by her during investigation of the gangrape case.
The court, however, felt that she “cannot be crucified at the altar of the investigative findings” in the gangrape case.
It further asserted that the investigating officer had also failed to conduct a fair probe in the matter by simultaneously investigating the two cases.
Life imprisonment, Rs 25 lakh fine
Sengar was convicted Monday under Section 376 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and sections 5(c) (public servant committing penetrative sexual assault on a child) and 6 of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act.
On Friday, he was sentenced to life imprisonment, till the remainder of his life, along with a fine of Rs 25 lakh — of which Rs 10 lakh will be paid to the rape survivor and Rs 15 lakh to the state of UP for costs incurred during the trial. This amount is over and above the amount of Rs 25 lakh already paid to the girl.
The court further directed the CBI to continuously assess the “threat perception” to the life and security of the woman and her family every three months. It also suggested that it may consider providing a safe harbour as also change of their identity, if they want.
In doing so, the court noted that Sengar adopted “every coercive measure… through his henchmen to intimidate, harm and silence” the survivor and her family.
It further highlighted that Sengar’s actions eroded people’s faith, observing, “The convict was a key democratic functionary being representative of the people and the offence committed by the convict has eroded the faith of the people to which he owed allegiance and a duty to exhibit upright moral behaviour and probity in personal and public life.”
‘Blemishes’ in CBI investigation
In its judgment, the court lamented several “blemishes in the investigation” of the case, beginning with the fact that the entire probe was conducted by a male officer, despite the mandate of the POCSO Act.
The investigation, it said, suffered from “patriarchal approach or inherent outlook to brush aside the issues of sexual violence against children under the carpet apart from exhibiting lack of sensitivity and humane approach by the stakeholders in the administration of criminal justice”.
The investigation, it said, had “not been fair” to the girl and her family members, pointing out that she was repeatedly called to the CBI office for recording her statement, “without bothering for the kind of harassment, anguish and re-victimisation that occurs to a victim of sexual assault in such a case”.
The court also questioned the CBI filing the chargesheet only in October 2019, noting that the premier investigating agency had taken over the probe in April 2018 and had completed the investigation by August-September 2018.
According to the court, the CBI also failed to examine a vital piece of evidence — a hard disk containing audio recording of conversations between the woman’s uncle Mahesh Singh and Sengar — despite the fact that the agency had received the data sometime in July-August 2018.
Survivor described the room in which assault happened
The court concluded that the woman was a minor at the time of the incident, relying on the admission register of her school, as submitted by her school principal. This enabled the application of POCSO provisions in the case.
The court also opined that the delay of two months and 10 days in making the allegations had been satisfactorily explained by the girl. It especially noted that she had hidden the incident from her family, as she was terrified of Sengar, who had threatened to kill her and her family in case she disclosed it to anybody.
The court specifically noted that the survivor was able to describe the room in which the sexual assault happened, without ever having visited the room before or after the incident.
In an empathetic judgment, Judge Sharma also weighed in the fact that she hailed from a rural background and “in the kind of traditional social taboos, feeling of shame, self pity and guilt that she found herself to be in, it was but natural that some contradictions and omissions were bound to seep into her recollection of events, observance or memory of chain of events”.
Sengar’s defence rejected
Sengar had submitted that he was not in the village at the time of the incident.
The court, however, opined that Sengar had “failed to prove even by way of preponderance of probabilities that he was not present at his residence or that it was difficult for him to have access to his house” at the time of the incident.
The court said the two witnesses who supported Sengar’s alibi were “interested and tainted witnesses who have gone out of the way to support (A-2) (Sengar) due to his political might and their versions are contrary to their statements recorded by the CBI IO (investigating officer) during the investigation”.
Sengar had further asserted that he was being falsely implicated at the behest of the girl’s uncle, Mahesh Singh, to harm his political career, due to a previous enmity.
The court, however, rejected these contentions.
Co-accused acquitted; conspiracy, kidnapping not proved
The judge, however, acquitted co-accused Shashi Singh, who had allegedly enticed the woman on the pretext of getting her a job. It was alleged that instead, Singh brought the woman to the MLA on the June 2017 night when she was confined and raped.
The court also dismissed charges of conspiracy between Sengar and Singh, observing that Singh did not know anything about Sengar’s “illegal design or motive” when he brought the survivor to Sengar’s house.