In a grim development to a sexual assault case involving a state lawmaker in India, the alleged victim’s father died in police custody on Monday after sustaining injuries that his family said were from retaliatory beatings ordered by the lawmaker and his supporters.
Kuldeep Singh Sengar, a member of the legislative assembly in the state of Uttar Pradesh, has been accused of raping the man’s teenage daughter. Sengar has been defiant in his denial of the alleged assault, which reportedly took place last summer in the city of Unnao and had been largely ignored by the public and media until last weekend, when the alleged victim attempted to burn herself to death near the residence of the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh.
The self-immolation was in protest of what the teenager said was indifference and inaction by politicians and law enforcement officials who’d failed to pursue ― and, in some cases, even abetted ― the man she said raped her.
A day after her attempted suicide, the girl’s father, identified by local news outlets as 55-year-old Pappu Singh, died while in police custody. His family, who The Guardian reported had tried “for months” to get police to investigate the rape allegations against Sengar, said Pappu Singh was attacked by the lawmaker and a group of men, including Sengar’s brother, last Tuesday after they “barged” into the family’s home.
The men also molested two young girls in the home, the family said.
Sengar, a member of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, was charged with rape, criminal intimidation and abduction of a minor on Thursday, reported The Hindustan Times. The Central Bureau of Investigation, India’s top investigative body, is now investigating the charges against the lawmaker.
Sengar told reporters this week that the charges are part of a “conspiracy” being leveled against him by “low-status people.”
On Thursday, Sengar told the Times of India that the teen had been “tutored to build rape case against me.”
Sengar’s alleged victim told reporters this week that police officers had been there when her father was beaten “but did nothing.”
“[They] took him to the police station and put him in jail,” the teen said. “They did not take him to hospital ― maybe if they had, he could have been saved.”
The girl said her father was beaten again while in prison. According to NDTV, a postmortem report showed the man had multiple wounds and bruises on his body. The report said he died of “shock and septicemia.”
Six police officers have reportedly been suspended, and a number of other men, including Sengar’s brother, Atul Singh Sengar, have been arrested in connection with the man’s death.
Pappu Singh’s family has called for justice this week, and people across India have reacted with fury to what has been described as a cover-up by law enforcement officials of Sengar’s alleged crime and a failure of the state to protect the teenager and her family.
“The police facilitated the beating to death of the father of the girl,” Vrindra Grover, an Indian supreme court lawyer who specializes in sexual assault cases, told Al Jazeera. “If the police is going to not act according to the law but at the behest of the accused, then there can be no hope for justice. Today law and justice are a mirage that we are offering the women of this country.”
“The state is supposed to protect the people. This lawmaker is shamelessly flaunting his power by saying that he has the blessings of the entire state government,” Grover added.
On Thursday night, Rahul Gandhi, head of the opposing Congress party, led a candlelight vigil in New Delhi to call for justice for sexual assault victims, including the teenager in Unnao and an 8-year-old girl who was raped and murdered in January.
“This is not a political protest, this is a national matter. The government should be able to protect the dignity of women in this nation,” Gandhi told reporters during the march.