Two years and 35 complaints later, Unnao rape case is tragic display of faith that system will somehow prevail
Unnao case: The word ‘survivor’ has never seemed as dubious — from the very beginning, when the 17-year-old had alleged rape by MLA Kuldeep Singh Sengar in June 2017 and her family went to the police to report the crime which was perpetrated by the MLA, his brother Atul Singh Sengar and cronies.
In the Unnao case, the word ‘survivor’ has never seemed as dubious — from the very beginning, when the 17-year-old had alleged rape by MLA Kuldeep Singh Sengar in June 2017 and her family went to the police to report the crime which was perpetrated by the MLA, his brother Atul Singh Sengar and cronies
The police then charged the victim’s father, who had been beaten with sticks and rods, with illegal possession of firearms and sent him to jail. On 9 April he died in police custody
It is only after the father died and the survivor tried to commit suicide in front of Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath's residence that a case was finally registered against Sengar
I had an Iranian friend who used to look at me like I’d grown an extra head if I ever stopped to ask directions from a traffic policeman in Bangalore. "Why would you voluntarily even go near a policeman," he used to ask me. In turn, I had the same expression whenever confronted with a certain kind of person whose imagination of justice is all about ‘khulke bolo’. As if a chest-expanding 'speaking out' is the sole and final act of courage required to correct an injustice done to you.
Often, not always, these advocates of speaking out are male. Often, not always, they are upper caste. They are unlikely to be wealthy (the wealthy being so with a healthy contempt for the law) and more likely to be those just privileged enough to have had a personal biography that they can read as 'did it on my own.' As if anyone succeeds at anything on their own. These optimists think that filing a case of rape or sexual harassment is like the final round of a reality show music contest. You just have to find your voice.
It is actually more like the survivor shows where you are stranded on an island without food or water. Look out for the scorpions and look out for the cameras. But even the most melodramatic, exploitative fiction will not dare put its heroine through the suffering that has been faced by the young girl now known as the Unnao rape survivor.
In this case, however, the word ‘survivor’ has never seemed as dubious — from the very beginning, when the 17-year-old had alleged rape by MLA Kuldeep Singh Sengar in June 2017 and her family went to the police to report the crime which was perpetrated by the MLA, his brother Atul Singh Sengar and cronies. Today, even the old connotation of the word 'survivor' is looking dubious as she lies in a hospital bed connected to a ventilator which is helping her breathe.
On 28 July 2019, the girl was travelling to visit her uncle, who is lodged in the Raebareli prison, when her car was hit by a truck. The incident was dubbed "an accident", except that it looked accidental to no one. Meanwhile, the two aunts who were accompanying the girl were killed in the accident. Her lawyer is also on a ventilator.
The survivor’s uncle was in jail because it was not just her who had to suffer for their faith in the system. A few weeks ago, her uncle was sentenced to ten years on the basis of a 20-year-old case of attempt to murder filed by Sengar’s brother Atul. Six months ago, an FIR was filed against the survivor, her mother, and her uncle accusing them of forging documents to prove that she was a minor. According to the accused she wasn’t. An important witness in the case died under suspicious circumstances in August 2018.
And long before all this, back in April 2017, when the family was thrown out by the police over and over again for insisting that Sengar be named and charged with rape, the survivor lost her father. He was tied to a tree and beaten by Atul Singh and his henchmen until he passed out.
The police then charged the victim’s father, who had been beaten with sticks and rods, with illegal possession of firearms and sent him to jail. On 9 April he died in police custody with the post-mortem report showing blood poisoning due to perforation of the colon and many other injuries all over his body, reportedly from police torture.
It is only after the father died and the survivor tried to commit suicide in front of Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath's residence that a case was finally registered against Sengar. And the investigation was transferred to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI). Somewhere in this period, a top cop in Uttar Pradesh police was asked why Sengar had not been arrested and his answer was roughly this: why should we and it was big enough that we named him in the FIR.
After having lost so much, the family persisted, this remarkable family. In recent months, they have filed complaint after complaint 35 complaints with the police saying they feared for their lives. The family shot videos of Sengar's henchmen threatening them and showed them to the police who remained true to form.
The family wrote a letter to the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court hoping he would intervene, an act of irony, if you have been following the news. After the ‘accident’ and the uproar that followed, when confronted with these complaints, MP Verma, the Unnao Superintendent of Police, said ‘they were dismissed as they were unfounded and lacked merit,’ the purest distillation of bureaucracy and chickens**t scared this side of an avante garde parfumerie.
In the heart-breaking display of faith that the system would somehow prevail, a relative of the survivor told a reporter after the accident that the complaints ‘were sent by registered post and even uploaded on the government’s integrated grievance redressal system (IGRS).’
As if they believed that dotting the i’s, crossing the t’s and getting the birthdates right would encourage the police to actually protect them. Instead the sign they should be reading is Sengar’s infamous smirk, still hovering like Voldemort’s mark in the sky. In all this time, what has he lost? His party has suspended him we are told. I asked people what that meant, what loss of privilege does it imply. Came the reply: if the suspension then leads to his being disqualified as an MLA, it would mean something. Else, it is just notional. Notional like the faith with which we go anywhere near a policeman, seeking notional directions.
The author is the founding editor of The Ladies Finger, India’s leading feminist digital magazine.
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