The Unnao rape survivor is battling for her life in a Lucknow hospital. Injuries to her lungs have left her bleeding and unconscious, living on hope and a ventilator.
As we pray for her life, it is difficult to not be reminded of Nirbhaya. In the winter of 2012, an entire nation prayed for her but she couldn’t make it.
Unlike the Nirbhaya of Delhi, it wasn’t the rapists who’ve tried to kill the Nirbhaya of Unnao. That speeding truck wasn’t sent by the rapists. It symbolised the entire system: the state government, the police, the BJP, the CBI, the judiciary, and even the media and civil society. Everybody let her down.
Harassment, rape, kidnapping, gang-rape
Kuldeep Singh Sengar, the alleged rapist of the Nirbhaya of Unnao, didn’t immediately try to kill her. Instead, he wiped her tears and said he’ll get her a job. It was 2017, she was 16-years-old.
She had been sexually harassed allegedly by Sengar, the powerful politician from her village, so much so that she had dropped out of school. After she was raped, she was allegedly threatened that if she told anyone about the incident, her father would be killed. She didn’t tell anyone. She was then kidnapped, sedated and gang-raped allegedly by Sengar’s accomplices for nine days.
She said they’ll kill me. Nobody heard her cries.
Weeks before her car was hit by a speeding truck, she wanted the CBI to shift the trial to Delhi because she feared for her life. The CBI said that’s for the judiciary to decide. She knew the rampant threats from Sengar’s men are not be taken lightly. Her family even recorded one such incident of intimidation on video. They had allegedly got her father killed, her uncle jailed. She wrote to the Chief Justice of India, saying she was told the ‘judge will be bought’. It is still being translated into English for the honourable CJI’s perusal. The trial against Kuldeep Singh Sengar and his accomplices doesn’t even have a court assigned to it, leave alone a judge.
Unnao’s own Nirbhaya filed 35 complaints with the police over the last year saying she feared for her life, and yet the police couldn’t protect her or her family. Unnao SP M.P. Verma says these complaints were dismissed as they were “unfounded and lacked merit”. The “accident” has shown the complaints were not ‘unfounded’ or ‘lacking in merit’. For such complicity, the SP has not been suspended or even transferred, because of course, it isn’t the SP who is taking such decisions. It’s Yogi Adityanath.
Oh, the UP police did give her security. Except that the security detail mysteriously absented themselves the very day a truck rammed into the car in which the rape survivor was travelling. He family says the security detail provided to them used to keep Sengar informed of their movements.
The list of charges against the UP police is a very long one. At every step, even now, the UP police has actively tried to sabotage the case and protect the rapist. It did everything possible to discredit the rape survivor, questioning her claims, even filing an FIR alleging she wasn’t a minor.
Why don’t you ‘settle’ the case, UP police would tell her, ‘end the matter’. He’s a powerful BJP MLA, the police would say to the survivor’s family. The police said they would lose their jobs if she didn’t ‘compromise’, according to an FIR filed by the victim’s uncle. Sengar would call the family from jail and threaten them.
Home minister Yogi Adityanath
When she was raped in June 2017, it took her a long time to gather the courage to file a complaint. The UP police didn’t do her medical examination for days. They didn’t register an FIR for months until she attempted to set herself on fire. Initially, the police refused to name Sengar or his brother in the FIR. It is to be noted that the UP police not only reports to the Yogi government but to Yogi Adityanath himself: he holds the home portfolio.
The prosecution — meaning, the UP government — has made sure the trial against Sengar does not even start. Meanwhile, the victim’s uncle has already been convicted in a 19-year-old attempt to murder case and sentenced to 10 years in jail. How magically the case was expedited after his niece accused a powerful BJP MLA and his henchmen of gang rape!
False charges, custodial death, witness dead
One of the MLA’s brothers, Atul Singh Sengar, thrashed the victim’s father, and the police arrested the victim’s father! The CBI later said the victim’s father had been framed by the UP police in a false Arms Act case.
As if that was not enough, the father later died in police custody. A key witness in the alleged murder of the father died in August last year, as such witnesses often do under the UP police’s watch, “under suspicious circumstances”.
The BJP’s beloved bahubali
From the very first moment, the UP police stood with the alleged rapist MLA, because he was an MLA of the ruling party. A Thakur by caste, just like the UP CM. A powerful local politician in Unnao, a ‘bahubali’. Not protecting him would cost the BJP votes. And the power-hungry ruling party doesn’t want to lose a single seat even when it has more seats than it needs.
Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath shared the dais with Sengar’s wife in the Lok Sabha election campaign earlier this year. Unnao MP Sakshi Maharaj visited him in jail to thank him for his support. Both Yogi Adityanath and Sakshi Maharaj themselves have several criminal cases registered against them.
Last year, the BJP refused to suspend Kuldeep Singh Sengar from the party. Too early to take a call, it said. Innocent until proven guilty and all that. Make sure the case is weakened, and the guilty is never proven guilty, and thus his innocence is proven.
We have all failed her
Also killed in the car accident were two aunts of the Nirbhaya of Unnao. One of the aunts was a key witness in the case. The lawyer is also battling for his life. The uncle is in jail in an old attempt to murder case, and one of the aunts who died in the accident was his wife. The family had to protest on the streets before the court granted him parole for a day to attend his wife’s funeral.
The media and civil society are also to blame. All of us moved on from the story. We didn’t sustain the pressure. We didn’t stand by the Nirbhaya of Unnao. Earlier this month, the media did report threats to her life, but it was just another case lingering on. We all let her down.
If she dies, she won’t be able to give her testimony in the court. Sengar will be a free man, contesting many elections to come, helping the BJP stay in power. The BJP will say, look we told you he was innocent because he hasn’t been proven guilty. The Prime Minister will remain silent, Yogi Adityanath will use some Lord Ram for deflection.
We have failed to keep the promises we made as a society to ourselves after Nirbhaya’s death in Delhi in 2012.
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