Expelled BJP MLA, Kuldeep Singh Sengar, who was one of the accused in the 2017 Unnao rape of a minor, was convicted by a special Delhi court on Monday, December 16. The court under District and Sessions Judge Dharmesh Sharma held Sengar guilty of offences under Section 376 of the Indian Penal Code and Sections 5(c) and 6 of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act. The court while delivering the judgement announced that the victim’s testimony was "truthful and unblemished" against a "powerful person".
However, Shashi Singh, Sengar’s co-accused was acquitted by the court. The court noted that after the victim wrote letter to the UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, several criminal cases were filed against her family and "imprints of Sengar" were visible in them. It also expressed surprise over the delay by the CBI in filing charge sheet in the rape case and said it prolonged the trial against Sengar and others.
The court pulled up the CBI for delay in filing the charge as well as the absence of women officer in conducting the probe "without bothering for the kind of harassment, anguish and re-victimisation that occurs for a victim of sexual assault". It also expressed displeasure over the agency selectively leaking vital information relating to the statement of the survivor to put a cloud over her case. The court said that "according to law there should be female officers in CBI to record statement of victims in such cases but surprisingly the girl was called many times to CBI office instead of going to her residence". It noted that investigation in such cases has to be conducted by a woman officer as mandated under Section 24 of the POCSO Act but the successive statements of the victim girl had been recorded by calling her at the CBI office "without bothering for the kind of harassment, anguish and re-victimisation that occurs for a victim of sexual assault in such case".
Also read: All You Need to Know About Unnao Rape Case
Referring to the POCSO, which had come into being to impart expeditious justice involving children as victims of sexual assault, the court said there was "nothing wrong" with law but its ineffective implementation on ground and lack of human approach of officers concerned led to a situation where justice was delayed.
It said that the CBI itself was not following the manual relating to investigation and prosecution.
Abysmal Conviction Rate
Even though the conviction of the high profile accused in the Unnao rape case is welcome, it should be noted that the conviction rate in rape cases in the country is as low as 32.2%, according to the National Crime Records Bureau 2017. This is seven years after the brutal Nirbhaya gang rape shook the entire nation and laws dealing with sexual assault were made stringent in the aftermath of the incident.
The total number of rape cases that went to trial in 2017 was 1,46,201 but only 5,822 of them resulted in conviction. Meanwhile, cases registered under the Protection of Children from Sexual Violence (POCSO) Act that had female victims accounted for 8.8% of all crimes against women. The number of cases across India was 31,668. With 5,174 cases, Maharashtra accounted for the highest share, followed by Uttar Pradesh (4,791), and West Bengal (2,106). The conviction rate was 33.1%, while there was only a slight increase of just 3.3% between the years 2014 and 2017. The conviction rates for several crimes, and in several states, was much less than this.
Also read: Indians Keep Opposing, But Rape Graph Keeps Climbing
The NCRB report also notes that 8,269 cases of assault, that is, 9.6% of the assaults on women with intent to outrage their modesty happened on girls under 18 years of age. The conviction rate was 27.8%. Uttar Pradesh, where the BJP government has been claiming of establishing ideal law and order, tops this list which accounts for 23.9% of all crimes against women.
The abysmally low conviction rates and high incidences of rape cases, especially in Uttar Pradesh, show the impunity enjoyed by the accused in these cases. Recently, in another case in Unnao, the victim of gang rape case was set ablaze by the accused, leading to her death.
The victim was allegedly kidnapped and raped by Sengar in 2017 when she was still a minor. Sengar, a four-time BJP MLA from UP's Bangermau, was expelled from the BJP in August 2019.
The court had on August 9 framed charges against the MLA and Singh under Sections 120 b (criminal conspiracy), 363 (kidnapping), 366 (kidnapping or inducing a woman to compel for marriage), 376 (rape) and other relevant sections of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act.
The trial in the high profile case was held in-camera after the Supreme Court transferred the matter from UP to the national capital. A special court was also held at AIIMS hospital on September 11, 12 and 13 to record the statement of the rape survivor, who was admitted there after she was air-lifted from a hospital in Lucknow. On July 28 this year, the car of the survivor was hit by a truck and she was severely injured. The woman's two aunts were killed in the accident and her family had alleged foul play.
Also read: SC Transfers All Unnao Cases From UP to Delhi CBI Court
In addition to that, her father was allegedly framed in an illegal arms case and arrested on April 3, 2018. He died while in judicial custody a few days later, on April 9. The local court in Unnao has framed murder and other charges against the MLA, his brother Atul and nine others in the case.
Taking cognisance of the developments, the Supreme Court had on August 1 transferred all five cases registered in connection with the Unnao rape incident from a Lucknow court in Uttar Pradesh to the court in Delhi with directions to hold trial on daily basis and completing it within 45-days.
During the trial in the rape case which was held in-camera, 13 prosecution witnesses and nine defence witnesses were examined. The mother of the rape survivor and her uncle were the main witnesses in the case. The woman and her family have been provided CRPF security as per the apex court's orders.
(With inputs from PTI)