Children in Unnao |
Children in Unnao | Photo: Praveen Jain | ThePrint
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Unnao: In April 2018, an 18-year-old girl tried to immolate herself in front of Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath’s residence. The teenager from Unnao claimed she had been raped by BJP MLA Kuldeep Singh Sengar when she was a minor, and she wanted to be heard.

A year-and-a-half later, a 23-year-old rape victim died after being set on fire by five men, including the two rape suspects, in the same district.

Two high-profile cases of rape within such a short span of time have put an unseemly spotlight on Unnao, a district in central Uttar Pradesh that is about 65 km from state capital Lucknow.

Situated between the rivers Ganga and Sai, Unnao has given Hindi literature some of its most prolific writers, including Suryakant Tripathi Nirala and Shivmangal Singh Suman.

Proud of this legacy, residents of the district bristle at the image Unnao is currently courting — as a place with no respect for its women.

Unnao is just over 65 km from UP capital Lucknow | Praveen Jain | ThePrint
Unnao is about 65 km from UP capital Lucknow | Praveen Jain | ThePrint

According to an ANI report dated 7 December, there have been 86 rape cases and 185 cases of sexual harassment in the last 11 months in Unnao. 

It’s a claim Unnao police deny. Speaking to ThePrint, Unnao Superintendent of Police (SP) Vikrant Veer said cases of rape had actually gone down between 2018 and 2019. “Between 1 January and 30 November, 11 months, there were 54 rape cases in 2017, 64 rape cases in 2018 and 51 in 2019.”  

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But there is more to the Unnao story than numbers alone. On a visit to the villages to which the two victims belonged, ThePrint found a glaring lack of sympathy for the women. Questions about their character were thrown around in the garb of “frank admissions” and “freedom” was seen as a factor in the fate they met. Although not everyone was sympathetic to the suspects, the blame was by and large placed at the victims’ doorstep.


Also Read: Unnao rape victim’s family stop local officials from cementing grave, demand justice first


‘Will defend Sengar to death’ 

The ‘Unnao rape survivor’, as the BJP MLA’s alleged victim has come to be known, was 18 when she set herself on fire. 

According to her, Sengar, a four-term MLA from three different parties, had raped her in June 2017 on the pretext of helping her with a job. Sengar was also accused of harassing the girl’s father, framing him in an Arms Act case and subsequently charged with murdering him while he was in police custody.

However, the CBI absolved him of any role in an accident involving the victim that killed her two aunts. 

Sengar is currently in Tihar Jail, with a Delhi court expected to rule on the rape case on 16 December.

Expelled from the BJP, he remains a popular figure in the Unnao village to which he and the victim both belong.

Their houses — Sengar owns a posh house, while the woman and her family live in a dilapidated structure — stand just about 200 feet apart, and were largely vacant when this reporter stopped by. Outside the latter’s home, CRPF personnel stood guard in the absence of the family, which moved out in the aftermath of the crime. 

CRPF personnel deployed near the house of the woman allegedly raped by former BJP MLA Kuldeep Singh Sengar | Praveen Jain | ThePrint
CRPF personnel deployed near the house of the woman allegedly raped by former BJP MLA Kuldeep Singh Sengar | Praveen Jain | ThePrint

“For many years, Sengar was with the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and the Samajwadi Party (SP),” said one of the woman’s neighbours. “He wasn’t considered bad back then, but why did everyone start portraying him as evil the minute he joined the BJP? This is nothing but a conspiracy against him.”

This “isn’t just village gossip” — he is a passionate supporter and will defend Sengar to death, the neighbour added. 

“They (the girl’s family) used to frequently visit Sengar’s place,” said an elderly woman who is part of the woman’s family. “Villagers were always welcome at Sengar’s home. God knows what happened then, why they targeted him like this?” 

It was a similar story in the village of the 23-year-old, who suffered 90 per cent burns in the attack last Thursday and died a day later. Villagers here were critical of the accused and their powerful families, but also certain the woman’s “character” was to be blamed.

The case has also acquired caste connotations because the woman belonged to the lohar (blacksmith) community, while the accused, including prime suspect Shivam Trivedi, are Brahmins. 

According to her complaint, she had accused Trivedi, whom she reportedly had a relationship with, of sexually abusing her several times and then refusing to marry her. She also alleged that Shivam and his cousin Shubham had raped her at gunpoint last year. 

“Most of these rape complaints are actually the result of inter-caste relationships gone sour,” a 24-year-old villager said. 

He added that many “upper-caste men” in Unnao, a Brahmin- and Thakur-dominated district, have affairs with “women from lower castes” and then refuse to marry them. 

Lower-caste ladkiya easily set hojati hain. Unko khet mein bulao toh aasani se aajayengi (girls from ‘lower castes’ are easy to woo. You call them to the field and they come readily),” he added, saying he is “merely being frank”.

“If an upper-caste guy is with a lower-caste girl, you can safely assume he isn’t serious about her — he is just using her,” the man said, adding that things were not “nearly as regressive in Lucknow, where I did my schooling”. 

Bimal Bajpai, a 60-year-old man who has been in Unnao since his childhood, said he couldn’t think of a single inter-caste married couple in the village. Asked if he would be comfortable if his children wished to marry someone from a “lower caste”, Bajpai, a Brahmin, said no.

Hamari antaratma abhi nahi maanegi (my conscience won’t allow me as of now),” he said. “Perhaps, in the next 5-10 years, things will change.”

His wife Manorama Bajpai, also an Unnao native, said she shared her husband’s views.

A 34-year-old woman who grew up in Unnao and shifted to Delhi after marriage said the increasing crimes against women in Unnao had a lot to do with “the increasing freedom of women”.

“[Back in the day] We wouldn’t even step out of our home without a male family member,” the woman, who was visiting her parents in Unnao, said. “Today, girls of the village have too much freedom.” 

The only expression of sympathy came from a 65-year-old. “Some of these men are saying, ‘what if she self-immolated?’ The point is, even if she did self-immolate, someone harassed her to the point that led her to do this.”

‘Not exactly a heaven for women but no different’

Peeved at how Unnao has dominated headlines over the past year for all the wrong reasons, residents say there is much more to the district than is being presented.

Dr Ganesh Narayan Shukla, an award-winning novelist from Unnao, said he was upset with how people seemed to have forgotten the rich history of the place. 

“You can’t link a few odd incidents with the very nature of an entire people,” said Shukla, whose books include one on the history of Unnao’s Baiswara region. 

Dr Ganesh Narayan Shukla, an award-winning novelist from Unnao | Praveen Jain | ThePrint
Dr Ganesh Narayan Shukla, an award-winning novelist from Unnao | Praveen Jain | ThePrint

But Shukla agreed that slow development has kept Unnao behind in many aspects. The primary reason, he said, was its location. With Unnao sandwiched between the more bustling Lucknow, Kanpur, Rae Bareli and Hardoi, the younger generation is increasingly moving out for studies and for work.

“If someone is sick, they go to a doctor in one of these cities. So, no one feels the need to develop a good hospital in Unnao. Similarly, in other sectors, Unnao’s location has really been a disadvantage,” he added.

Inspector General (Lucknow zone) S.K. Bhagat, visiting the Unnao rape and murder victim’s family, said a few incidents from the district had been “hyped”. Even so, he promised a study on why things were going downhill.

“I will certainly constitute a group of academicians and researchers to do a sociological study of Unnao to understand the reason behind these crimes better,” he added.  

SP Veer said while he wouldn’t call Unnao a paradise for women, it was “like any other district of Uttar Pradesh”. 

“It is a feudal society, like the others. There are behavioural changes that need to be brought about in police personnel and how they respond when a woman comes to file a complaint,” he added. “All that does need improvement.” 


Also Read: They said no one should cry, but then broke down — how Unnao village mourned ‘rape’ victim


 

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2 Comments Share Your Views

2 COMMENTS

  1. Rape cases are increasing astronomically in India.this is because acute poverty and less development.In acute poverty the persons take to cheap pleasures and lure women/small girls with tall promises and the hapless ignorant women with low levels of intilligence fall prey to Rapes.The saga of Rapes is undending in India and with the rise of female population astronimically everywhere, Rapes will become more and more common,unless Goverment introduces Rape laws like those in Saudi-Arabia ane other middle east countries to stop Rape attrocity.A nation which does not Respect its women cannot last long.

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