Members of Indian Youth Congress (IYC) holds a cut-out of Uttar Pradesh MLA Kuldeep Singh Sengar during a protest against Uttar Pradesh government over the Unnao Rape and burn case, in New Delhi Saturday.(ANI Photo)
Members of Indian Youth Congress (IYC) holds a cut-out of Uttar Pradesh MLA Kuldeep Singh Sengar during a protest against Uttar Pradesh government over the Unnao Rape and burn case, in New Delhi Saturday.(ANI Photo)

How Unnao rape survivor stood up against regional strongman Sengar

Sengar, a four-time MLA from Uttar Pradesh’s Bangarmau and a local strongman, lived in the same village as the survivor’s family.
Hindustan Times, Unnao | By Rohit Singh, Haidar Naqvi and Dhrubo Jyoti
UPDATED ON DEC 23, 2019 01:41 AM IST

Dusk was nearing when the father of the 2017 Unnao rape survivor returned to his village on April 3, 2018. He was exhausted – summer temperatures in the plains of Uttar Pradesh were soaring and he had spent all day in the additional sessions court in Unnao, pursuing an application filed by his wife on February 12 the same year.

The application contained an explosive charge: that their daughter, a minor, had been raped by Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) legislator Kuldeep Singh Sengar on June 4, 2017, after he summoned her to his house on the pretext of arranging a job for her. Sengar, a four-time MLA from Uttar Pradesh’s Bangarmau and a local strongman, lived in the same village as the survivor’s family.

Two-and-a-half years after the rape, Sengar was sentenced to life in jail on Friday by a Delhi court that also ordered him to pay a Rs 25 lakh fine, including ~10 lakh to the survivor, who was 16 when the incident took place. The sentencing brought a degree of closure for the survivor and her family whose ordeal has haunted Uttar Pradesh since it made the headlines in 2018.

HT pieced together this account of the ordeal using two Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) charge sheets — dated July 11 and 13 last year—testimonies, fact-finding reports and court documents.

On that day in April 2018, as soon as the father and his co-worker, Kishore Mishra, both slightly inebriated, got off their motorcycle, they found themselves surrounded by six alleged associates of Sengar, including his younger brother, Atul.

Four of them started thrashing the two men, dragging them towards a nearby house. One of the men, Suman Singh, tore off the father’s trousers, which he tossed into a heap of garbage.

How did this happen? The father’s undoing had been a conversation he had with Suman Singh, a fellow villager, that afternoon. Suman Singh was Sengar’s man and immediately called up an associate of Atul to pass on the information about the application the couple had filed.

On getting the call, Atul, who was travelling to Kanpur via Unnao in two sports utility vehicles (SUVs) full of aides, turned around the convoy and roared down the highway to the survivor’s village. At the time, Sengar was away in Delhi and received a 16-second call from his aide, Santosh Mishra, at 5.15pm.

Mishra had already had two conversations with Atul — at 5.05 pm and 5.10pm. Sengar next called the then Unnao superintendent of police, Pushpanjali Singh, and complained about “nuisance by a drunken person”. The SP allegedly promptly passed this information on to two subordinate police officers, who proceeded to the village where the father, by now, was being beaten up.

When the two officers — AK Bhadauria and Kamta Singh — reached the spot, they pulled the father and Mishra into the jeep, but instead of going after Sengar’s men or providing immediate medical care, they took the father to the local police station. Between 5.20pm and 9.43 pm, the two officers and Sengar spoke on the phone 10 times — of a total of 36 calls placed by either associates of Sengar, the MLA, or police officers between 4.51pm and 6.41pm that day.

A CBI charge sheet dated July 13, 2018 — the aforementioned account of April 3, 2018 is based on this document — concluded that these telephone conversations showed that a “criminal conspiracy was hatched by them (police officers) with Kuldeep Singh, MLA, to falsely implicate…(the father).” The charge sheet was submitted on October 3, 2019 in New Delhi’s Tis Hazari court.

The father’s death

When they reached the police station, Shailendra Singh, an aide to Sengar, claimed the father had flashed a country-made pistol at him earlier that day and others and threatened to kill him. The father was booked under sections of the Indian Penal Code and the Arms Act — the complaint was dictated by Kamta Singh at his residence, in the presence of Shailendra Singh who couldn’t draft a legible complaint because of poor handwriting, and therefore found a third person to write the document.

At 7.09pm, a constable arrested the father and prepared a memo about recovering a country-made pistol, 12 bore, and four live cartridges. The memo was signed by five aides to Sengar. Two associates of Sengar — Vineet Mishra and Birendra Singh — inflicted injuries on themselves “at the instance of Atul” to make the case against the father, who was produced in a court and sent to 14 days judicial custody.

Next morning, at 8.23am and then at 3.08pm, chief medical officer of Unnao SP Chaudhary received calls from Sengar, who told him that the father should not be kept in the hospital and instead be thrown in jail if his condition was “fine”. The survivor’s father died in the jail hospital five days later — on April 9, 2018.

The inquest and post-mortem revealed that “the father...died due to injuries caused to him on April 3, 2018 by the accused persons deliberately and knowingly that it may be fatal to him”.

The family alleged that because of pressure from Sengar, the doctors had not given the father proper treatment. By then, it had been 24 hours since his daughter poured kerosene on herself outside chief minister Yogi Adityanath’s residence and attempted to set herself on fire, catapulting the Unnao rape case to national limelight.

“This is a classic case where we find that the accused persons have not kept a single stone unturned to terrorize not only the victim but her family members and other witnesses,” read an April 13, 2018 Allahabad high court judgment that kick-started an investigation of the case.

On April 12, more than 10 months after the initial complaint, a first information report (FIR) was lodged against Sengar on charges of kidnapping, rape, criminal intimidation and under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act.

“Shri Kuldeep Singh, MLA, had every reason and authority by virtue of his being MLA, to falsely implicate…(the father)…in the case of possession of illegal firearms,” concluded the charge sheet, which asked that Sengar, his brother, five aides and the three police officers be tried under various sections of the law .

The start of the ordeal

On June 11, 2017, the survivor had vanished from her home. The family immediately lodged a police complaint, and the woman was found nine days later in Auraiya, about 130 km from her home. She was allegedly kept in a women’s police station near Unnao for 10 days before being released to her uncle’s custody.

In the high court verdict, the judges noted that the survivor had alleged she was kept at Singh’s home and repeatedly raped before being sold for ~60,000 — it is at this point that the police rescued her but she alleged that the officers threatened and intimidated her to say as instructed, and that the doctor did not examine her because of his ties with Sengar.

On June 22, 2017, she was produced before court and her statement was recorded under Section 164 of the CrPC — this statement did not mention the MLA, and the survivor alleged later that the police did not allow her to name Sengar.

In August, she finally mustered enough courage to tell her aunt that three men —Shubham Singh, Naresh Tiwari and Brijesh Yadav — allegedly abducted and gang-raped her. She said that the abduction was a tactic to force her into silence on the crime that had occurred the week before — her rape by Sengar on June 4, 2017 in her ancestral village near Unnao.

The survivor, who had studied until Class 6, later told social workers that she only felt safe enough to talk once she was outside Uttar Pradesh. She felt more comfortable in Delhi where her uncle ran a small business.

“Investigation revealed that the victim was under the constant and grave threat for not disclosing the incident of rape committed by...Kuldeep Singh Sengar, MLA, being her closest neighbour and very influential person having dominance in the area, therefore, victim could not dare to disclose this fact either to her mother or any family member,” read the July 11, 2018 CBI charge sheet. “It was also alleged that the MLA had threatened to kill her family members if the incident was disclosed to anyone,” the document added.

On August 17, 2017, the survivor’s family submitted a complaint to the chief minister’s office naming Sengar, but it is unclear if the complaint ever reached Adityanath, who later said that he found out about the incident on April 9, 2018 and set up a Special Investigation Team to probe the case.

Her mother later told authorities that around 8pm on June 4, 2017, a neighbour, Shashi Singh, found the victim standing outside her house and allegedly took her to Sengar’s residence on the pretext of providing a job.

The CBI charge sheet said that Singh had already tried once to get the girl out of the house that afternoon, but had been unsuccessful.

Shashi Singh, a resident of the same village, was known to the victim’s family and happens to be the mother of Shubham Singh, an accused in the 2017 gang rape case. Shashi Singh, a co-accused with Sengar, was acquitted in the case.

Scare tactics

The survivor’s mother filed the first application against court of the additional sessions judge of Unnao on February 12, 2018. The statement of the victim was recorded on April 16, 2018. A few days later, her uncle claimed to have received a call threatening him with “serious consequences” for their lives if they didn’t withdraw all applications.

Scared, the family started writing to every authority — posting a letter every week — first to the district magistrate, the superintendent of police and the local station house officer, and later to CBI investigators, the director of the agency, the Prime Minister’s Office and the Chief Justice of India.

In a letter dated November 1, 2018 of which HT has a copy, the uncle wrote to the CBI director, alleging a large-scale conspiracy to frame false cases against him, and named six legislators, a magistrate, advocates and local media persons. “Whenever I travel to my village in Unnao from Delhi to appear before the CBI, Lucknow, false cases are lodged based on complaints submitted on the directions of MLA Kuldeep Sengar… in this condition, the survivor, eyewitness or I can be charged under false cases or even killed,” the letter read.

In another letter to then principal secretary (home) Arvind Kumar on July 12, 2019, the survivor’s mother said “Manoj (Sengar’s brother) with one Kannu Singh and two other unidentified men drove down to my house and said that they have fixed the judge and arranged for release of Kuldeep Singh. And once the MLA is out, they will put us in jail on fake cases.” None of this was conclusively proved.

Another letter sent to the Chief Justice of India on the same day and signed by the survivor and two family members said an aide to Sengar came to their house on July 7 and threatened them with dire consequences. The letter also repeated the allegations of the August 11 letter to the CBI chief. In a letter to the director general police (DGP) OP Singh on July 11, the mother brought up a threat made by an Haripal Singh, Shashi Singh’s husband. A video clip and a photo purportedly showing Haripal Singh at the survivor’s house were sent along with the letter.

Unnao superintendent of police Madhav Prasad Verma said that security had been provided to the family. The alleged threats were not proved.

Sengar continually denied any role in either the rape case or the threats. “The allegations of any involvement of Kuldeep Sengar ji are completely false. They are in line with the earlier false cases of rape and murder against him. Sengar Ji and his entire family are suffering because of these false cases,” said Vinay Mishra, Sengar’s personal secretary.

According to the two CBI charge sheets, the strategy of intimidating the family had three prongs.

The first, as elaborated above, dealt with physical threats and home visits.

The second was filing cases against family members, especially the survivor’s uncle, who is the only adult male alive in the family.

First came a molestation charge currently pending against the uncle. Four months after the family filed charges against Sengar, Shashi Singh lodged the case of molestation against the survivor’s uncle on October 22, 2017.

Eight days later, Sengar’s aide Vinod Mishra filed another case against the uncle of attempt to murder and threatening Mishra with serious consequences. Two other associates of Sengar, Raj Kumar Singh and Arun Singh, lodged FIRs against the uncle for allegedly circulating “objectionable posts” online about the MLA.

As per the records at the local police station, the uncle currently faces 19 cases. The survivor’s father, who died in April 2018, faced 27 at the time. In comparison, Sengar faced six cases, and his brothers Atul and Manoj four each.

The most serious charge against the uncle is an attempt to murder case from 2002 in which the prosecution argued that the uncle bribed lawyers and court officials to erase his name from the accused column with a whitener. The charge dates to 2002 but the arrest was made recently.

“The whole thing is bizarre,” said the survivor’s lawyer, Ajendra Awasthi. The case is currently pending appeal before the Allahabad high court.

Raising doubts over survivor’s age

The third prong of the strategy was to continually raise doubts about the veracity of the survivor’s age, in order to discredit her and get the charges under Pocso dismissed.

According to statements by the survivor, her mother, her school-leaving certificate and her Aadhaar card, the survivor’s birth year is 2002. This makes her a minor at the time of the alleged crime, and attracts stringent punishments under IPC and Pocso. Sengar’s lawyers furnished three other documents.

One is an informal birth register from the survivor’s village that puts her birth year at 1999, another is a document from a primary school in Rae Bareli that puts it at 1998. In June 2017, the survivor underwent a medical examination after the alleged gang-rape, and the Unnao chief medical officer opined that she was 19 years old — as mentioned in the CBI charge sheet.

Moreover, one of Sengar’s associates filed a case on December 23, 2018 against the survivor, her mother, uncle and family members for allegedly “tampering” with her age documents.

The survivor’s family has argued that records from a village and school with ties to Sengar and in his area of influence can’t be impartial pieces of evidence. “They seem doctored,” added Awasthi.

The family said their fears were founded on the alleged impunity that Sengar’s men enjoyed in the area.

For instance, in 2004, Atul had allegedly shot at then additional superintendent of police Ramlal Verma. A senior UP police officer confirmed on condition of anonymity that Verma was shot at when he tried to stop illegal sand mining in the Ganga bed. Verma, who survived the incident, had to later file a Right To Information (RTI) application to know about the progress of the probe in his case.

It is this kind of alleged impunity, argued former UP director general of police Vikram Singh, that made the local police stall the investigation and help the accused. “Imagine, the police would call Sengar ‘Vidhayak ji’ {legislator}. The entire episode was an unmitigated disaster. The police committed blunder after blunder, deliberately and with malafide intentions,” he said.

Sengar’s back story

Sengar was born on March 20, 1966 in Fatehpur district but moved to his maternal grandfather’s house in Unnao when young. His two brothers were born in Unnao.

A powerful Thakur clan, the Sengars had a stranglehold on the region. His grandfather, Babu Singh, was the chief of the village where he and the survivor lived for 37 years. In 1988, at the age of 21, Sengar assumed the family mantle and became the village chief.

He held the position for seven years before it was reserved for women. In 2000, his mother Chunni Devi was elected village chief, and was re-elected in 2005. His wife Sangeeta is the sitting Zila Parishad chief while Atul’s wife Archana is the current village head.

“The family’s grip on the region comes from its control of brick kilns, sand mining and land. Plus, Thakurs are very powerful in the region and so the caste power of the Sengars is immense,” said Ajay Kumar, a postdoctoral fellow at the Shimla-based Indian Institute of Advanced Studies.

Sengar’s political career started with the Youth Congress but he moved on to the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and won the 2002 assembly election from Unnao Sadar — the first time since independence that the BSP, a party known to work for the lower castes, won the Thakur-dominated seat. He later shifted to the Samajwadi Party, and won the 2007 election from Bangarmau and 2012 election from Bhagwant Nagar, before jumping to the BJP ahead of the 2017 election, and winning from Bangarmau. All the seats are in the Unnao region, and Sengar steadily increased his victory margin, and political heft.

Unnao lies at the heart of what is called the badlands of UP, where local strongmen have private fiefdoms shaped by caste and crime and the heft of a political leader is often measured by the length of his cavalcade, his crime record, and his ability to bend the law.

Sengar built his reputation as the man who got things done in Unnao – he would hold a big Sunday meeting where people from far-flung villages in the district came to resolve disputes, or beg for jobs. “Whoever the local MLA may be, Kuldeep would get the job done,” said a young woman resident of the village.

In his election affidavits, reviewed by HT, Sengar reported no criminal cases in 2007 and 2012 but in the 2017 election, he mentioned a charge of disobedience to order and another of assault or criminal force to deter a public servant from discharging his duty. There was no conviction under either charge.

Family connections

Testimonies of the uncle, Awasthi and local villagers indicate that the survivor’s family was close to Sengar, based on them being of the same caste. According to lawyer and general secretary of the Pragatisheel Mahila Sangathan, Poonam Kaushik, everyone in the survivor’s family considered the MLA, whom she called daddu, a family friend.

The survivor’s father and uncle used to work for the MLA, said a second senior UP police official on condition of anonymity, and this connection helped the MLA foist cases on them when the relationship turned sour. The family otherwise eked out an income from a small plot of farmland, and lives in a modest home outside the gates of one of Sengar’s palatial bungalows. The exact nature of the work that the father and uncle did is unclear — the eldest brother, who died in 2002, was formally employed in a brick kiln owned by the Sengar family — but villagers frequently refer to them as “Sengar ke aadmi”(Sengar’s people).

It is unclear why the connection frayed. Awasthi thinks the brothers developed political ambition of their own, and the official quoted above said the root of the bitterness was the survivor’s mother deciding to contest the village chief’s election in 2015.

In the village, the now-convicted MLA enjoyed widespread support. Ask the local patwaris or the young men at the chai-kachori shop or labourers carrying loads on their backs or on their cycles and they said they believed ‘Vidhayak ji’ because the survivor’s father and uncle are supposed to have worked on his behalf. In interviews, Awasthi referred to the survivor’s uncle as Sengar’s former “henchman”, and the uncle has admitted to have been working for the MLA.

In the village, many residents proudly announced that they had imposed a social boycott on the survivor’s family. No one wanted to give their name for fear of legal reprisal, but that didn’t stop them from declaring that Sengar was the favourite here to win the next election . Even at the local police station, his “misfortune” was a favourite conversation starter. “We have seen Vidhayak ji all his life, we cannot believe he was wrong and we will vote for him the next time,” said a resident on condition of anonymity.

To Poonam Kaushik, who visited the village multiple times, Sengar enjoyed feudal loyalty from the villagers. “Feudalism meant that the villagers see themselves as the subjects of the king-like figure of the MLA. This atmosphere of feudalism was clear in the village, and this fostered the sentiment that the legislator can never do anything wrong,” she said.

Law enforcement officers have seen the kind of support he enjoyed. Last year, when a first special investigation team formed by the additional director general, Lucknow Zone, Rajeev Krishna, visited the village, they ran into long columns of residents, holding placards and shouting slogans in support of the MLA. It was a matter of the village’s pride and honour, they said.

Despite the headwinds, the survivor and her family pursued the case. “The entire state administration was supporting Sengar,” said RK Reddy, her lawyer in the Supreme Court.

For the family, it was a roller-coaster ride. On July 28, a vehicular collision killed two of her aunts and left the survivor and her lawyer battling for their lives. At the cremation site in the village, which was teeming with journalists and police, only two or three families close to the survivor showed up; the rest of the village boycotted the event.

But on 1 August the apex court awarded the family ~25 lakh compensation and ordered the CBI to finish investigating the road crash in two weeks and the rape trial within 45 days by holding day-to-day proceedings. Reddy points out that four more related cases are pending, and that they will demand the harshest punishment. “In this one case, our purpose is fulfilled,” he added. Sengar’s lawyer Tanveer Ahmed Mir said he had received a copy of the judgment. “We will definitely challenge the lower court’s verdict in the high court. I feel, some major facts and evidences were not considered. I am analysing the judgement and will soon file the review in upper court.”

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