India: BJP lawmaker Kuldeep Singh Sengar faces rape charges

Legislator from PM Modi’s BJP party faces inquiry after public outcry over alleged administrative and police cover-up.

According to National Crime Records Bureau data for 2016, incidents of rape of children in India increased by over 82 percent compared with 2015 [MONEY SHARMA/EPA]

Following a massive national outcry over alleged administrative and police cover-up, a lawmaker from India‘s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) will be investigated for alleged rape of a 15-year-old girl from Uttar Pradesh’s Unnao district.

Police have filed a case against Kuldeep Singh Sengar that include provisions filed under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act (POCSO) on Thursday almost a year after the alleged assault took place.

“We have filed an FIR (First Information Report) today under the sections 363, 366, 376 that deals with rape under the Indian Penal Code as well as the POCSO act. The Special Investigation Team has been probing the case,” Kunwar Bahadur Singh, Deputy Superintendent of Police at Unnao Police Station, told Al Jazeera.

The girl has accused the 50-year-old politician of raping her in June last year.

In what activists allege is a glaring case of police collusion with the alleged rapist, the girl’s 55-year-old father who was fighting for justice was arrested by the police and died in custody on Monday.

Clamour for the lawmaker’s arrest has grown as mounting evidence points to the state police perverting the course of justice by initial attempts at shielding the accused and instead arresting the father of the complainant.

The top investigative body of the country, the Central Bureau of Investigation will now probe the case.

Extrajudicial killings

The police finally registered an FIR against the lawmaker on Thursday after dragging its feet for a week after the rape survivor tried to self-immolate outside Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Adityanath’s residence on Sunday protesting police inaction.

Adityanath’s term in office has been marred by scandals over extrajudicial killings by the police and now sexual assaults.

“Still so many questions are being raised on me, even after my father’s murder. How will I get justice? CBI probe is fine but first MLA should be arrested as he will influence probe,” the girl told Indian news agency ANI on Thursday.

The girl has alleged that her father was beaten and killed following orders from the BJP lawmaker.

The father, brought to the hospital from jail, died on Monday, from wounds suffered during an alleged thrashing by the brother of the accused, Atul Singh. A toxicology report says he died of “shock and septicaemia”.

The accused lawmaker Sengar remains brazen. He told reporters earlier this week that the charges against him were a “conspiracy” and were levelled by “low-class people”.

At least six policemen have been suspended following allegations of collusion.

Uttar Pradesh is one of the poorest regions in India, and with a population of 208 million is larger than that of Russia.

‘Chilling picture’

Amnesty International on Wednesday said the Unnao rape case painted a “chilling picture”.

Six years after the Delhi gang rape case that shocked the world, rape survivors in India face significant barriers to obtaining justice and critical support services, Human Rights Watch said in a recent report.

Indian women who report sexual assaults are still routinely harassed by police and bullied into silence and subsequent withdrawal of complaints, according to the report.

On social media, Indians pointed to the apparent disconnect between Prime Minister Narendra Modi government’s flagship “Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao” (Save the Daughter, Educate the Daughter) campaign and its failures to protect women, in this instance from its party lawmaker.

Vrindra Grover, a supreme court lawyer who specialises in sexual assault cases, said in this case, “the subversion of the law is being done by the lawmaker and the law enforcer”.

“Systems are manipulated from the investigation stage onwards, the processes of law are subverted by those in power. The Unnao case is the most brazen illustration of this,” Grover told Al Jazeera.

“The police facilitated the beating to death of the father of the girl. If the police is going to not act according to the law but at the behest of the accused, then there can be no hope for justice. Today law and justice are a mirage that we are offering the women of this country.

“The state is supposed to protect the people. This lawmaker is shamelessly flaunting his power by saying that he has the blessings of the entire state government,” she added.

According to National Crime Records Bureau data for 2016, incidents of rape of children in India increased by over 82 percent compared with 2015.

In 2016, police in India registered 38,947 rape complaints, an increase of 12.4 percent from the previous year.

In recent weeks India has also been jolted by the gang rape and murder of an eight-year-old Kashmiri girl and the subsequent social and political divisions over the investigation of the case.

Leaders from the BJP, prime minister Modi’s party, have staged rallies in solidarity with the rapists.

Source: Al Jazeera