The Indian teenager at the center of a high-profile rape case involving a local lawmaker from Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party is fighting for her life after being severely injured in a road accident.
The alleged rape victim, who cannot be named under Indian law, was hospitalized in a critical condition on Monday afternoon after the car she was in collided with a truck in northern Uttar Pradesh.
Two other female passengers died in the crash. The victim’s lawyer was also injured in the accident.
Police are investigating the causes of the crash, following a compliant from the victim’s family who have alleged foul play.
Last year, the the woman, who is now aged 18, alleged that the local Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) legislator for her district attacked her on June 4, 2017, when she was taken to his home on the pretext of being hired for a job. She says she was then repeatedly gang-raped at the property over several days.
In 2018, Kuldeep Singh Sengar was charged by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) for rape, abduction, criminal conspiracy, criminal intimidation and is in prison awaiting trial.
Sengar has denied the charges.
From the outset, the victim and her family have repeatedly alleged intimidation by local police and threats from Sengar’s family.
According to court documents, police officers allegedly picked up the girl on June 20, 2017, and, as they drove her to the police station, repeatedly threatened violence against her father if she spoke out.
In April 2018, after the family filed a complaint, the girl’s father was assaulted, allegedly by associates of the accused. He later died of his injuries. The CBI has also filed charges against five people for murder, rioting, voluntarily causing hurt, breaching peace, criminal intimidation in relation to the April 2018 incident.
The day before her father’s death, seeking to draw attention to her case, the girl attempted to set herself on fire outside the residence of the Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister, but was stopped by onlookers.
The road accident has renewed attention on the high-profile case. The driver and owner of the truck have been detained by the local police.
At the time of the incident, it was raining heavily and the driver has said because of the rain he crashed into the vehicle, said Rajeev Krishna, senior police official with the Uttar Pradesh police.
The police are also investigating why no member of the victim’s nine-member security team — provided to her last year by the local police — were with them the group on Monday. The family has demanded that the investigation into the accident be handed over to the CBI.
Akhilesh Yadav, former chief minister of the state of Uttar Pradesh asked for a CBI inquiry. “It is the opposition’s responsibility to raise questions and stand with the victim in her time of need. It is the responsibility of the government to assure the people that they will get justice, said Yadav.
Opposition leaders have laos demanded that the ruling party expel Sengar to ensure due process and justice for the alleged victim and her family.
India has been grappling with the issue of sexual violence for decades. Yet despite the introduction of stricter laws in recent years, around 100 sexual assaults are reported to police in India each day, according to the National Crime Records Bureau. There were nearly 39,000 alleged attacks in 2016, an increase of 12% over the previous year.
For victims, justice in India’s court system is far from certain. Courts and police both face a massive backlog of cases.
According to court records, the number of sexual assault-related cases awaiting a trial date in 2016 totaled 15,450, with the courts resolving just 1,395, or less than 10% that year.
In 2018, India tightened its rape laws, changing imprisonment to the death penalty in some cases of rape of minors and in gang rapes.
Last month, an Indian court sentenced three men to life imprisonment for the abduction, rape and murder of an eight-year-old Muslim girl in the northern state of Jammu and Kashmir.