Hit and misses

Unnao rape case could have been handled better and quicker

PTI8_5_2019_000202B Road to recovery: An ambulance carrying the rape survivor from the trauma centre of King George’s Memorial University in Lucknow. She was shifted to AIIMS in Delhi | PTI

MUCH BEFORE SHE lost consciousness, fractured her cheekbone, jawbone, collarbone and shoulder, dislocated her right elbow and had the right side of her ribs broken in multiple places, a young woman cried many a time for help.

One such cry for help was to Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, according to a statement the Unnao rape survivor made before a magistrate in a court of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) in Lucknow on April 16, 2018 (a copy of this statement and all other documents referred to in this report are available with THE WEEK). “On 17/8/2017, I went with my uncle to give the letter to Yogiji,” reads her statement. “He said he will get the matter investigated. I went to Delhi. Ten days had passed. Yogiji did not take any action.” This was a meeting before the survivor’s much-publicised attempt at self-immolation in front of the chief minister’s residence in April 2018. Made under Section 164 of the CrPC, the statement will be valid even in the event of her death.

Before the attempt to kill herself, the survivor and her family had tried many times to name Bangarmau MLA Kuldeep Singh Sengar, now expelled from the BJP, in the rape case. In the aforementioned statement, the survivor notes, “On 4/6/2017, around 8pm, my neighbour—my sister-in-law in relation—Shashi Singh, took me to get me a job. I did not tell anyone at home. She took me to the home of Kuldeep Singh Sengar.... (He) pushed me on the bed. I did not raise my voice as he said that he would kill me if I shouted. He took off my clothes and then his. He had physical relations with me. He told me whatever is happening is good. He then told me to go. I put on my clothes. Shashi Singh was waiting in the courtyard. I did not tell her anything. She did not ask me anything.... I did not tell my mother anything out of fear.”

According to the letter the survivor handed over to the chief minister in 2017, the alleged rape was followed by her kidnapping and gang rape. That letter also names Sengar. But it would take seven more months before an FIR would be filed naming Sengar. This FIR by the survivor’s mother, Asha, was lodged only after a magistrate directed the police to do so under a plea filed under Section 156(3) of the CrPC.

Together for her: Youth Congress workers march to Parliament in protest against the delay in the Unnao rape case investigations | Arvind Jain Together for her: Youth Congress workers march to Parliament in protest against the delay in the Unnao rape case investigations | Arvind Jain

The initial FIR that named two persons for her kidnapping had also been filed by Asha on June 20, 2017—the day she was found by the police from Auraiya. The survivor’s uncle, Mahesh Singh, in a statement before a magistrate, alleged that Sengar’s name was mentioned by Asha in the initial FIR, too, but not noted by the police.

The survivor, in her statement, says she was kept in police custody for ten days after being found by the police. She was sent for a medical examination “after a few days” and after being given a bath, she says. After she was handed over to her family, she did not return to Makhi village, native to both Sengar and her. Instead, she told her father, Surendra, and uncle to take her to Delhi, where the latter worked. “After four-five days when I found myself strong, I told my aunt Pushpa (Mahesh’s wife), who told my uncle,” reads her statement. “My uncle said Daddu cannot do such a thing. He calls Kuldeep Singh, Daddu (elder brother). My aunt said, ‘The girl is crying and trying to kill herself.’ Uncle then told me to write down whatever had happened to me in a letter and that he would take me to meet the chief minister.”

Documents related to the investigations reveal that there were multiple points at which the case could have been anchored and its downward spiral stemmed. For instance, even after the self-immolation bid, the lodging of the FIR and the grave nature of the charges, progress remained tardy. Then on May 21, 2018, in response to a public interest litigation filed by senior lawyer Gopal Krishna Chaturvedi, based on newspaper reports, before the Allahabad High Court, the state said that it proposed to bring all the related cases to a special CBI court in Lucknow. These included the case of the death of the survivor’s father in police custody.

Two medical examinations, one in Unnao and another in Lucknow, had already concluded that the survivor had been raped. A statement on the report of the second examination on April 14, 2018, made at Lucknow’s Dr Ram Manohar Lohia Combined Hospital, notes an absence of signs of struggle on the survivor’s body and that “sexual violence was made through penetration.... Kissing, licking or sucking of body parts and touching/fondling was made during sexual violence.”

By the time the CBI charged Sengar with rape and kidnapping under the Indian Penal Code and Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act (the survivor’s mother claimed that she was a minor when she was raped), she and her family had received multiple threats. A statement by the state’s police after the accident puts the number of complaints about these threats at 25; the family says it is 35. Why these were never paid any heed to is still being investigated. Four-time MLA Sengar’s political clout is evident in Makhi. His wife, Sangeeta, is the chairperson of the Unnao Zila Panchayat. Archana Singh, wife of his brother Atul, is the village pradhan (elected head). Atul is accused of assaulting the survivor’s father.

The Unnao case was also influenced by larger issues. In September 2018, the Allahabad High Court sent a letter to district courts of Lucknow and Ghaziabad, asking for details of cases registered against MPs and MLAs. It said it would guide the courts on further action. Based on this, on October 4, 2018, the special judge of the CBI Court No 4, where the survivor’s cases were being tried, asked for guidance from the Lucknow district judge. On October 24, the registrar of the High Court asked him to wait as the “matter is under consideration”. In April 2019, the special judge was transferred and the court fell vacant.

The quick movement on the case after the July 28 car accident, which left the survivor’s aunt Pushpa and Pushpa’s sister Sheela dead, is unlike what has transpired since 2017. Sadly, the survivor and her lawyer Mahendra Singh, now transferred on the Supreme Court’s order to AIIMS in Delhi from Lucknow, had slipped into unconsciousness long before her cries for help finally became audible.