Rashme Sehgal

The Unnao and Shahjahanpur rape cases show how difficult it is to bring the rich and powerful to justice.

Both the Unnao and Shahjahanpur rape survivors have shown tremendous courage. Photo: Reuters/Danish SiddiquiBoth the Unnao rape survivor and the 23-year old law student from Shahjahanpur have shown incredible courage. While the Unnao rape survivor filed rape charges against four-time BJP MLA Kuldip Singh Sengar, the lawstudent has accused Swami Chinmayanand, a former BJP Union minister and three-time MP from Jaunpur of having raped her over one year while she was studying LLM at a law institute owned and administered by him.

I had the opportunity of meeting the Unnao rape survivor in a guest house named after late prime minister Charan Singh located in Unnao, where she and her family had been shifted following her attempt at self-immolation outside chief minister Yogi Adityanath’s residence in Lucknow.

Slim, round-faced, she was so weak that she kept gasping for breath and was scarcely able to speak a few words. She had recently lost her father. “I am completely terrorised and shattered at how my father was beaten to death by the vidhayak’s (Kuldeep Singh Sengar) brother Atul and his associates,” she told me during our meeting.

Her father’s younger brother, Mahesh Singh, had also been imprisoned on what the family maintained were trumped-up charges.

Little could this seventeen-year-old have imagined that insisting on levying a rape charge against Sengar would make her life take a tragic turn. She has had to witness the deaths of her father and aunts, while she herself survived a near-death experience when the car she was travelling in was rammed by a killer truck.

The case of the law student is even more horrendous because Chinmayanand claimed to be both a man of religion and a leading educationist who owned five institutions in Shahjahanpur.

Also Read: Chinmayanand Raped, Physically Exploited Me: Shahjahanpur Student

The law student told her lawyer that she met Chinmayanand when she applied for the LLM course because her principal had told her to do so. Initially, Chinmayanand offered the law student a job. But like a wolf in sheep’s clothing, he soon showed his true colours and reportedly showed her a video of her taking a bath. He warned that if she did not have sexual intercourse with him, he would make the video public and “destroy” her family.

The distraught woman, scared of how this would impact both her and her family, obliged. She informed her lawyer that Chinmayanand’s gunmen would fetch her at 6 am daily from her hostel room and bring her to his residence, where she had to give him a full body massage. Every afternoon, she was brought to his residence at 2:30 pm to have sexual intercourse with him.

This continued for nearly a year, according to her statement. It was when he suggested that she should also have intercourse with other men that she decided she needed to “fix” him. She ordered a pair of spectacles with an inbuilt camera to record these acts. She has handed over 42 clips of these sex sessions as evidence to the SIT which is investigating the case on the Supreme Court’s orders.

The Unnao survivor’s trial by fire followed a different trajectory. She was raped by Sengar in June 2017 and a week later, abducted and gang-raped by three men from the village. After the family filed an FIR against the MLA, Sengar and his brothers tried to exert pressure to withdraw it.

But the family refused to relent and the survivor’s father went to the extent of getting posters printed depicting Sengar as a ten-headed Ravana. In a village, daring to depict its powerful “mukhiya” in this fashion was bound to bring about retaliation, which it did.

Exploiting money and muscle power: Chinmayanand and Sengar are known to use a combination of money and muscle power to make their writ run large. Both men moved around with gunmen and were close to the chief minister.

The homes of Sengar and the Unnao survivor face each other and are divided by a patch of land. Sengar’s house is palatial and shares a common wall with an impressive school and intermediate college owned by him. The survivor’s family lived in a hovel.

In the Shahjahanpur case also, the woman’s father is a contractor. The economic recession had hit him hard, and he has admitted to activists who visited him that he had been going through a “bad economic spell”.

Also Read: The Extraordinary Slowness of the Wheels of Justice in the Chinmayanand Case

The only silver lining in these two cases is that the families, despite their economic problems and the realisation that they would face a social boycott, have chosen to stand firmly behind the women.

The law student’s father and brother told activists that they wished she had spoken about the exploitation to them. But she feared for their safety and finally, when the situation became intolerable, chose to go public through a video posted on Facebook.

Her disappearance after the video’s release, she told activists, was because she feared for her safety. If she had continued to live in Shahjahanpur, her life would’ve been under threat. Her video created such a national uproar that three young women lawyers petitioned the Supreme Court to take suo motu cognisance and help ensure her safety.

Victim blaming: Unfortunately, social prejudices are hard to disentangle. No wonder the SIT, appointed by the Supreme Court, did not hesitate to cast aspersions on the law student’s character because she went into hiding with three boys before being tracked down in Dausa in Rajasthan on August 30.

Inspector general Naveen Arora, who heads the SIT, told a press meet that the woman had been found in a compromising position with the boys. “Liptida mein pakri gai,” was the phrase he used, according to Dr Ranjana Kumari who heads the Centre for Social Research, Delhi.

Activist lawyer Avni Bansal points out, “This is a classic case of victim blaming. The easiest thing to do is to cast aspersions and malign the character of a victim. Lawyers representing Chinmayanand repeatedly referred to the three boys she was found with as her ‘boyfriends’.”

After the ‘accident’, the Unnao rape survivor was in a critical condition and was only recently discharged from the AIIMS. The Supreme Court has directed she, her mother, sisters and younger brother live in Delhi under police protection. Obviously, the highest court of the land realised that the family would continue to face the sword of Damocles if they returned to their village.

When I interacted with the girl’s mother in the guest house in Unnao last year, it became obvious that this simple, illiterate woman could not understand what had hit her and her family and why she alleged Sengar took the extreme step of having her husband killed.

Lamenting the loss of her husband the mother said that if they had wanted to punish her family, Sengar could have cut off his arm or even his ears. “But what did he do? He sent back his body. Now, I have to look after four daughters and a son. Who is going to share this burden with me?” the mother asked.

In the case of the law student, while she finds herself lodged in jail for a fortnight on extortion charges, the rape accused Swami Chinmayanand was ensconced in a hospital since his arrest on September 20 after he complained of “uneasiness and weakness”. He is presently lodged in jail.

Given the horror both these women have been subjected to, will any others come forward in the future to lodge charges against the rich and powerful even when they have proof of rape and sexual exploitation?

…Courtesy The Wire