UP has a long history of women standing up to powerful politicians | Opinion
Incidents of rape are a depressing, disturbing reality in Uttar Pradesh. But, buried under the debris of some cold statistics of UP continuing to figure among states with a high number of rape cases, are some remarkable stories of a fight back by village women in UP against their powerful tormentors.
Sample this. It was ensured that the then powerful UP minister Amarmani Tripathi got a life term, along with his wife, for murdering a budding poetess after she became pregnant in 2003. Plus, the BSP government under Mayawati was forced to eventually order arrest of ruling party lawmaker Purushottam Naresh Dwivedi for allegedly raping a minor Dalit girl in Banda in 2011. A few years later, the then chief minister Akhilesh Yadav sacked his rape-accused minister Gayatri Prajapati. Besides, punishment was ensured for the nephew of a Samajwadi Party leader in Lucknow’s Ashiyana rape case. The latest Unnao rape case and the courage demonstrated by the victim is a continuation of that trend.
And this is what makes the eventual triumph of women all the more special: Two former UP ministers are in jail, one convicted for life, the son-in-law of a serving UP minister, along with two lawmakers – all behind bars or on the run.
Since 2003, these women have continued to surface intermittently in the most populous state which has a dismal track record of cases of rape and crime against women.
UP’s poor track record in protecting women is confirmed by the latest data from the National Commission for Women (NCW) whose chief wrote to the UP police for justice for the Unnao rape survivor.
Since last year when the Class 8 dropout, attempted to immolate herself outside chief minister Yogi Adityanath’s residence, the gutsy rape survivor forced the UP BJP government to arrest the influential politician whom the ruling party had imported ahead of 2017 UP polls from the Samajwadi Party to boost its political prospects.
The MLA and aides are now being investigated by the CBI for rape of the woman and murder of the victim’s father.
Yet another CBI investigation is now underway too, to probe the jailed MLA’s role in a car crash last Sunday that left the rape survivor and her lawyer critically injured. Her two aunts, including a key witness, were killed in the accident. Along with Sengam, the 10 people accused in the car crash case include the son-in-law of another UP minister who kept avoiding phone calls from media throughout the day.
The Unnao rape and car crash case has now attracted the attention of the Supreme Court while the victim’s uncle has written a five-page letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi seeking action against Sengar. The BJP was forced to hurriedly announce the MLA’s expulsion from the party.
UP has always been making news for crime against women. In fact, in 2010 the NCW had reported a 30 per cent spurt in rape cases from the state, the highest since 2003.
After a brief lull in rape cases reported to NCW from UP in 2016, when 809 cases were reported against 1626 in 2015, atrocities shot up sharply in 2017 with 1027 cases reported to the NCW. The National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data, shared last in 2017, continued to paint a grim picture of the state. But, the women offer a ray of hope.
“The legal system has also come of age in India. And women too have started stepping forward to report such cases. Driven by courageous women, the message has started going down to the villages that those accused of rape won’t go scot-free, that law would catch up with them, no matter how powerful,” says Bulbul Godiyal, UP’s former additional advocate general.
In 2011, a 17-year old Dalit girl forced the then Mayawati government to order arrest of the ruling Bahujan Samaj Party’s Banda lawmaker Purshottam Naresh Dwivedi and his three aides after preliminary police investigation, forced by a massive outrage, confirmed that prima facie the lawmaker and his aides appeared to have gang-raped the minor girl in Banda, 180 kilometres from the state capital.
Mayawati incidentally had come to power on the promise to fix the law and order situation in the state after the Samajwadi Party government under Mulayam Singh Yadav failed to control crime against women with spurt in rapes – 1398 in 2004, 1217 in 2005 and 1350 in 2006. The Mayawati government didn’t deliver, with the NCW saying there was a 30 per cent spurt in rape cases in UP, the highest since 2003.
So much so that the BJP had then described UP as “rape state” and Mayawati even got the then UPCC chief Rita Bahuguna Joshi (now a BJP MP), arrested for mocking the BSP leadership for trying to silence rape victims with money. “…throw this money in her face and tell her that if you meet a similar fate I will give her Rs 1 crore…,” Joshi had said targeting Mayawati at a rally in Moradabad in 2009 even as Maya continued to rush her DGP Vikram Singh to villages to distribute cheques to dalit rape victims. When the Akhilesh Yadav government was in power, his minister Gayatri Prajapati was accused of sexually assaulting a minor. Prajapati was eventually sacked and is now behind bars.
“Usually, we saw women from OBC and Dalit communities coming forward to register their complaints. The upper caste women largely shied away from reporting these cases due to social pressures,” says Manju Agarwal, a social activist currently with Amity University, Lucknow.