The suicide committed by the woman who had accused BSP MLA Atul Rai of rape shows how political clout and intimidation deny justice to sexual assault victims, who either are driven to the wall or continue to live in fear, writesPARSA VENKATESHWAR RAO JR
Intimidation is the main tactic used by rapists to silence their victims—in most cases, it drives them to the wall when they are themselves accused in FIRs lodged by the perpetrator or his family.
The shocking case of a 24-year-old woman studying in Ghazipur, Uttar Pradesh, who had filed an FIR alleging rape against Atul Rai, the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) from Ghosi, UP, in May 2019 shows how a victim can be pushed into a corner by turning her into an accused.
Rai, who had surrendered in 2019 and is now in judicial custody, contested and won the Ghosi Lok Sabha elections the same year. Statements of nine prosecution witnesses have been recorded, according to the police. The defence will cross-question the witnesses after recording the statements of the accused.
In November 2020, Rai’s brother Pawan Kumar lodged a police complaint against the victim in Varanasi accusing her of forging her high school mark sheet. Kumar alleged that the mark sheet showed her date of birth as March 10, 1997, in her FIR alleging sexual harassment by a student leader in 2015 while it was June 10, 1997, in the FIR against Rai.
Subsequently, a case under Sections 419 (cheating by personation), 420 (cheating and dishonestly inducing delivery of property), 467 (forgery of valuable security, will, etc.), 468 (purpose of cheating), 471 (using as genuine a forged document) and 120-B (criminal conspiracy) of the Indian Penal Code was lodged against the woman in Varanasi. On August 2, a local court in Varanasi issued a non-bailable warrant against her after the police informed the court she was untraceable.
The counterstrategy of the accused and his family drove the victim into the extreme act of self-immolation. They checkmated her in the legal process, making her feel utterly helplessness.
The victim was educated and involved in student politics. While her earlier FIR had accused the student leader of sexual harassment, her second FIR was against Rai for allegedly raping her when she met him in connection with student union elections in Varanasi. These two incidents also show the prejudice towards women who try to breach a male bastion. Student politics has been largely the prerogative of men.
Though cases of sexual harassment and rape are reported in other areas of both public and private spheres, the argument is a non sequitur that is entrenched on people’s minds. The police and the accused can use this argument to target a rape victim.
In September 2019, the woman from Ghazipur posted an online video alleging that Rai had threatened her saying she would meet the same fate as that of the Unnao rape victim, who was seriously injured in a suspicious accident in 2019.
Though it is difficult for politicians to get away with sexual crimes in today’s India, it is still an uphill task for the victims. The 1992 gang rape of government social worker Bhanwari Devi, who was raped in front of her husband by her upper-caste neighbours because she tried to stop a child marriage, showcases the problems involved.
The state denied any responsibility because the incident did not happen on government premises while a lower court punished the rapists for lesser offences which entailed only nine months in prison. The appeal is still pending in the Rajasthan High Court.
The cases of the Ghazipur and the Unnao victims clearly show how rape victims can never expect justice—they either commit extreme acts out of frustration or continue to live in fear. And the judicial system remains helpless because it is bound by the rule of evidence.
(Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr. is a senior Delhi-based journalist, political commentator, and author of several books. The views expressed are personal.)