On 5 December, five men set a 23-year-old woman from Uttar Pradesh’s Unnao district on fire when she was about to leave for a court hearing in a rape case she had filed in Rae Bareili. She had accused two of the men of raping her, and described the horrific details of her ordeal to the Rae Bareli district court in December last year. In an application seeking the initiation of criminal proceedings, the woman stated that Shivam Trivedi, a resident of her village in the state’s Unnao district, took her to Rae Bareli and raped her, recorded a video of the incident and then sexually abused her multiple times, under the threat of making the video public. She noted that he also kept her locked in a room in Rae Bareili for at least a month, where he repeatedly raped her. On 12 December 2018, she wrote in the application, Shivam and his friend, Shubham Trivedi, had raped her at gunpoint, following which she filed a complaint at the Lalganj police station in Rae Bareili.
But the police did not take any action on her complaint. Eight days later, the woman sent a written complaint to the superintendent of police, but he, too, did not initiate any proceedings. The woman then filed the application before the district court seeking an investigation against the accused persons. It was only in March 2019, following the court’s directions, that the police finally registered a first-information report against the two accused individuals. But eventually, like the police, the judiciary, too, failed her.
On 25 November 2019, two months after he was arrested, the Lucknow bench of the Allahabad High Court released Shivam on bail—according to a police statement to the media, Shubham had been absconding since the registration of the FIR. Ten days later, when she was on her way to a court hearing, Shivam, his father Ram Kishore, Shubham, his father Harishankar, and a mutual friend, Umesh Bajpai, attacked her at the railway station in her native village, Hindu Nagar, and set her on fire with kerosene. She reportedly walked for over a kilometre with ninety percent burn injuries before she found any help. At 11.40 pm on 6 December, she succumbed to her injuries in Delhi’s Safdarjung Hospital.
This marks the second rape case from Unnao that has made national headlines, and took place just days after a veterinarian from Hyderabad was raped and murdered by being set on fire. The police and public response in the Hyderabad case, however, was diametrically opposed to that in the two Unnao cases. In the former, the police arrested the accused two days after the complaint was filed, whereas the police did not act on the complaints against the two Trivedis till compelled to do so by the Rae Bareili district court. Similarly, in the earlier rape case from Unnao, the Bharatiya Janata Party member of legislative assembly Kuldeep Sengar was arrested in April 2018, nearly a year after he was accused of raping a 17-year-old girl. An apparent distinction in the cases is the profiles of the perpetrators—in contrast to the Hyderabad case, the Trivedis are Brahmins and Sengar is Thakur, both socially empowered upper-caste communities.
In July this year, the complainant in the case against Sengar was on her way to Rae Bareili from Unnao with her lawyer and two aunts, when a truck hit their car, killing her relatives, and leaving the survivor and her lawyer fighting for their lives with the support of a ventilator. In August, the Supreme Court had directed that the trial against Sengar should be completed in 45 days, but the case is still ongoing. Both the rape cases from Unnao expose the sham claims by the Uttar Pradesh government about the robust law and order prevailing in the state.