NEW DELHI: A former ruling party lawmaker was convicted yesterday of raping a teenager in a high-profile case that underscored India’s rampant sexual violence and the impunity enjoyed by the elite. Kuldeep Singh Sengar, a powerful four-time state legislator for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), was found guilty of raping the-then 17-year-old at his home in Uttar Pradesh in 2017, lawyers said. Sentencing will be announced later this week.
The verdict came amid renewed public anger about sexual assaults in India and the failures of the overloaded criminal justice system in tackling such crimes. Early this month, four rape-murder suspects were killed in what police claimed was a “shootout” in the southern city of Hyderabad, and a woman died after her alleged attackers set her on fire en route to court in Uttar Pradesh state. It also falls on the anniversary of the brutal 2012 gang rape of a young woman on a bus in New Delhi that triggered nationwide protests and international outrage.
Sengar, who was expelled from Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s BJP in August, broke down in tears as the verdict was announced in the district court in New Delhi. Judge Dharmesh Sharma said the “unshaken testimony” of the victim and “sufficient evidence” had proved Sengar’s guilt. “I found her statement truthful and unblemished that she was sexually assaulted,” the judge said in the verdict.
The case was heard from August 5 after the Supreme Court ordered the trial be moved to Delhi from Uttar Pradesh, where the politician enjoyed considerable clout. The victim’s father died last year in police custody after being accused of keeping firearms illegally, with the family alleging he was arrested and tortured by police for trying to pursue the case. The woman was also critically injured in a suspicious car crash in July. A separate trial is being held over the accident amid allegations it was a hit carried out on Sengar’s orders.
The sense of impunity enjoyed by Sengar, 53, sparked revulsion and protests across India. Sengar, who was tried under child protection laws as the victim was a minor at the time of the assault, denied the charges. India’s rape laws were overhauled after the 2012 bus gang rape but high numbers of assaults persist. More than 33,000 rape cases were reported in 2017, according to latest available official data. – AFP