An Indian teenager who accused a senior politician of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of rape is fighting for her life after being critically injured in a crash that killed two of her relatives, raising suspicions of foul play.
Police official Rajeev Krishna said on Monday the 19-year-old woman and her lawyer were in a hospital battling for their lives after a truck hit the car in which they were travelling on Sunday.
The woman’s two aunts, who were also in the car, were killed in the collision, Krishna said. One of the aunts killed was a witness in the rape case, which has highlighted lawlessness in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh.
Both the driver and the owner of the truck had been arrested, the police official added.
The case of rape against legislator Kuldeep Singh Sengar in India’s most populous state has caused an embarrassment for Prime Minister Narendra Modi‘s BJP.
In April last year, the woman had tried to set herself on fire outside the official residence of Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, saying the police had refused to register her complaint.
“Our inquiry is going on and we will look into the family’s allegations,” Krishna told reporters in Lucknow, the state capital.
‘All witnesses being eliminated’
Nationwide protests led to the case being handed over to federal investigators who arrested Sengar in April last year. Sengar denies the allegations.
His lawyer, Awadhesh Singh, said the case was a conspiracy to harm his political career. “It’s just an accident,” he told Reuters news agency on Monday, referring to the car crash.
However, police have lodged a case of murder against Sengar, based on the family’s complaint that he was involved in causing the crash, according to a copy of the report seen by Reuters.
The woman’s family said it feared for its safety, with her mother calling the crash a conspiracy, saying Sengar wanted the rape case against him to be withdrawn.
“This is not an accident,” the mother told reporters at the hospital, adding that the family had faced threats over the rape case.
“One by one, all the witnesses are being eliminated. We’re afraid for our lives,” said the mother, whose husband died while in police custody last year. He was severely beaten – allegedly by Sengar’s brother – and later succumbed to his injuries.
Indian rights group the National Commission for Women urged police to conduct an “absolutely free, fair and speedy” probe, saying its team would soon meet the woman’s family.
‘Purely a road accident’
India’s parliament was briefly suspended on Monday amid opposition protests over the case.
“There could be a possibility of murder behind this incident,” Akhilesh Yadav, a former Uttar Pradesh chief minister and head of the regional Samajwadi Party, said.
However, police chief OP Singh said the crash “appears to be purely a road accident”.
He said the truck was speeding, but declined to comment further while an investigation was ongoing.
Media reports said suspicions had been raised because the truck’s number plate was painted over.
The case has shone a spotlight on India’s atrocious record on rape. Nearly 40,000 cases are reported every year, according to official figures.
Campaigners say the real number is higher, with victims wary of filing cases because of social stigma and a lack of faith in investigators.
On Monday, a 36-year-old woman died after she set herself on fire in the western city of Jaipur, accusing police of inaction over her rape complaint.