Uttar Pradesh Congress chief Rita Bahuguna Joshi was on Thursday sent to Moradabad jail on 14 days' judicial custody on a charge of insulting Chief Minister Mayawati, after members of the state's ruling Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) set fire to Joshi's home in Lucknow late on Wednesday night. The Congress described the incident as "state sponsored vandalism".
Around the time her house was under attack, Joshi was arrested in Ghaziabad en route to New Delhi. She was charged under the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act 1989, for allegedly making derogatory remarks about Mayawati.
Early Thursday morning, Joshi was taken to the home of the chief judicial magistrate in Moradabad. The magistrate sent her to judicial custody.
However, Joshi denied having said anything to offend Mayawati or Dalits.
"It was at a meeting in Moradabad that I had simply sought to draw the people's attention to the fact that Mayawati's dole of Rs 25,000 to every Dalit rape victim was quite ironical as the state police chief was spending lakhs on the helicopter ride that he undertakes to hand over that paltry amount to the victim," Joshi told reporters.
"My intention was to remind Mayawati that being a woman she should realise that a paltry monetary compensation cannot make up for what a woman loses on account of rape," she added.
Joshi said she had already apologised for the remarks.
"As soon as I found that my statement had been twisted I promptly made it a point to offer my apologies. I knew that it would be misconstrued but what has followed amounts to state-sponsored terrorism and cannot be condoned under any circumstance," she said.
Talking about the attack on Joshi's house, her 50-year-old maid Munni said: "Close to midnight a group of masked men stormed into the house, raising slogans against Joshi and for Mayawati.
"They were armed with iron rods, sticks and petrol cans. They went about breaking everything before sprinkling petrol and throwing a matchstick to set the house ablaze. The fire raged for nearly two hours and several policemen were there but remained mute spectators. Later, four servants were taken away in a police vehicle. I managed to hide in one of the toilets."
Pictures carried by a local Hindi daily show a BSP legislator leading the band of attackers. Policemen can also be clearly seen watching the burning vehicles.
RA Shankhdhar, an advocate who lives across the road from Joshi, told IANS: "I woke up on account of loud slogan shouting, which apparently preceded the attack. By the time I lookd out from my terrace, I found flames emerging out of the house and within minutes the cars parked inside the compound were ablaze."
"In fact, one of the vehicles burnt (a Maruti van) belonged to me. Due tof lack of space in my house, I had taken Mrs. Joshi's permission to park it there," he added.
Speaking to reporters in New Delhi, Congress leader Digvijay Singh said, "The Congress condemns the incident. It is the handiwork of BSP workers. All this has happened under the sponsorship of the government. This is state sponsored vandalism.
"I have not seen the speech given by Rita Bahuguna Joshi but from what I have seen in the TV channels, her statement was uncalled for. However, she has already apologised (for the remark). Which law says that her house be ransacked and set on fire? The law will take its course. We will fight it out in court."