ON 16 DECEMBER—a day that has come to be associated with the 2012 gangrape of a young physiotherapy student in Delhi—a trial court in Delhi announced verdict in another case of rape, by a former Bharatiya Janata Party leader. The court convicted Kuldeep Singh Sengar, a member of the Uttar Pradesh legislative assembly, for rape and intimidation of a minor. Sengar was convicted under various sections of the Indian Penal Code and the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, or POCSO. The court reprimanded the Central Bureau of Investigation, which investigated the crime, among other reasons, for delaying the registration of offenses against Sengar. The CBI had halted the progress of the case against the legislator, the apex court said, without a concern for the anguish of the survivor and the ordeal suffered by her family. On 20 December, the BJP MLA was sentenced to life in prison.
About a year and a half earlier, in April 2018, a two-judge bench of the Allahabad High Court passed an order for the immediate arrest of Sengar, who was then a member of the BJP. A minor in his native village, Makhi, in Unnao district, had accused him of raping her in June 2017. She had further alleged that his cronies had gang raped her.
In the months that followed, the minor had attempted various times to have Sengar and his associates held to count, only to be discouraged, intimidated and threatened by the local police and the administration. She approached the chief minister Adityanath, but so massive was Sengar’s clout that even after the chief minister’s office forwarded her complaint, Unnao district officials refused to register an FIR against the legislator. The high court judges wrote in their order: “The disturbing feature of the case is that the law and order machinery and the government officials were directly in league and under the influence of Kuldeep Singh.” A report by a Special Investigation Team on the charges, the court noted, revealed “how police personnels and doctors were/are under the influence of Kuldeep Singh and how they tampered with evidence and tried to create terror and intimidated the prosecutrix and her family members.” The court had then directed the CBI to look into the allegations.
The days preceding the high court’s order had seen shocking turns related to the allegations against Sengar. On 3 April 2018, the Makhi Police arrested the minor’s father for a two-decade old case of possessing unlicensed arms. In collusion with the local police, Sengar’s brother, Atul, and his accomplices beat the father before he was taken into custody. On 8 April, the survivor attempted to self-immolate in front of the chief minister’s office, demanding protection for her family. The next day, her father died in police custody, owing to his wounds. The post mortem showed that he had suffered various external injuries on his body. On 12 April, amid a rising public outcry for his suspension, six MLAs lobbied in support of Sengar with the chief minister Adityanath, who in turn discussed the matter with Amit Shah, then the BJP president. Coming a day after this meeting, the order whipped up a media frenzy. By the evening, local news channels were speculating that Sengar would be arrested that very night, and began following him around.
What resulted was a dramatic display of Sengar’s dominance. At around 10 pm, with reporters and media vans crowded outside, the legislator and some of his supporters met the strongman politician Raghuraj Pratap Singh, popularly called Raja Bhaiyya, at the latter’s residence in Lucknow. The meeting fueled rumours that Sengar would surrender soon, before the police could arrest him.