India’s political, police and judicial systems were on test in the Unnao rape case, in which a 17-year-old was assaulted and raped by Kuldeep Singh Sengar, who was a Bharatiya Janata Party Member of Legislative Assembly in Uttar Pradesh(ANI)
India’s political, police and judicial systems were on test in the Unnao rape case, in which a 17-year-old was assaulted and raped by Kuldeep Singh Sengar, who was a Bharatiya Janata Party Member of Legislative Assembly in Uttar Pradesh(ANI)

Unnao must not happen again

Sengar’s conviction provides a ray of hope. But the system needs reforms
UPDATED ON DEC 17, 2019 05:56 PM IST

India’s political, police and judicial systems were on test in the Unnao rape case, in which a 17-year-old was assaulted and raped by Kuldeep Singh Sengar, who was a Bharatiya Janata Party Member of Legislative Assembly in Uttar Pradesh. The quest for justice for the survivor was arduous. From the refusal of the police station to name the accused when the complaint was first lodged to seeing her father tortured and killed, from her uncle being ensnared in an unrelated case to suffering an accident, which had clear marks of a conspiracy, the survivor was battling entrenched power structures ranged against her.

And that is why, albeit delayed, the decision of a special Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) court to convict Sengar is welcome. It is a reminder that India’s justice system is functional and survivors and victims have hope. But it is also a reminder of the lonely struggle India’s women have to wage to achieve this justice in the face of an adversarial political, police, even legal system. In this case, the fact that there was clear evidence pointing to the guilty, as well as to the efforts of Sengar and his aides to sabotage justice, generated nationwide outrage and finally led to the conviction.

But this must not be a one-off case. The state of women’s security, as most recently seen in Hyderabad, remains pitiable. While the larger battle has to be geared towards changing mindsets, it is time to execute a set of systemic reforms. As Yashovardhan Azad, a retired police officer, argued in these pages on Monday, this entails having fast track courts in all states, fixing the prosecution system, equipping every district with a mobile forensic team and quick response teams, and monitoring speedy disposal of these cases, among other measures. It is also important to insulate the police from political pressure and make it unacceptable for political parties to provide patronage and protection to rape accused. Unnao must not happen again.

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