Court finds former BJP state legislator guilty of rape

Kuldeep Singh Sengar was found guilty of raping a teenager. PHOTO: REUTERS

UNNAO (Uttar Pradesh) - A state legislator, formerly with the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), was convicted on Monday (Dec 16) of rape and kidnapping in Unnao district in Uttar Pradesh in a case that has triggered a national uproar.

Kuldeep Singh Sengar, arrested for the crime in April last year and expelled from the BJP in August this year, was found guilty by a Delhi court of the rape and kidnapping of a 17-year-old woman. The court will announce the quantum of punishment on Dec 18.

In Makhi village, where Sengar lived just a few houses away from the victim, there was little sympathy for her. Most locals told The Straits Times they supported the legislator, who they felt had been framed.

"We feel sad about her family's condition, but most villagers here have sympathy for Sengar," said 30-year-old bike mechanic Akhilesh Mishra. A group of eight paramilitary personnel have been guarding the victim's house for the last two months. She currently lives in Delhi.

The case had grabbed national attention, particularly as it involved a legislator with the ruling party. According to reports in the Indian media, the judge said he had found the victim's statement that she was sexually assaulted and under threat to be "truthful, unblemished".

The victim, who was 17 at the time of the rape in June 2017, had threatened to set herself on fire outside the house of Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath after the police refused to register a rape case against the powerful legislator.

Tragedy has continued to haunt the victim and her family.

Her father was arrested by the police after being involved in a fight with Sengar's brother Atul Singh. He died of his injuries in police custody.

In July this year, the victim and her lawyer were seriously injured in a car crash that led to the death of her two aunts.

The Central Bureau of Investigation did not find any evidence of Sengar's involvement in the crash.

Sexual crimes against women remain a serious problem in India, exacerbated by delays in the judicial system. Rape trials can take years.

The verdict in Sengar's case comes at a time when the focus has been on Unnao, a district that has seen two other rape cases grab national headlines.

On Dec 5, a rape victim who was on her way to court was stopped by five men, including two who had allegedly perpetrated the rape. They stabbed her and set her on fire. She died of her injuries in a Delhi hospital two days later.

In the third case, a 24-year-old rape victim set herself ablaze yesterday outside the police station in Unnao. She had filed a police complaint on Sept 30 against four locals from her village in Unnao district, accusing one of them of rape. She also accused him and the three others of criminal intimidation.

She was reportedly upset that the accused had not been arrested. A relative of the victim from her village told The Straits Times that the man she accused of raping her had even distributed sweets last week in the village after he managed to secure anticipatory bail, which left her even more disturbed.

A charge sheet was filed last week and the accused have absconded.

The woman suffered 70 per cent burns and was taken to a hospital in Kanpur, one of the state's major cities, for better treatment.

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