Man who accused Indian politician of raping daughter dies in custody

  0 comments   |     by Michael Safi in Delhi

Alleged victim had attempted to self-immolate in protest against treatment by authorities on day before father died

An Indian man who was arrested after accusing a ruling party official of raping his teenage daughter has died in police custody, prompting outrage and calls for an independent investigation. The day before the man died, his daughter had gone to Lucknow, the state capital of Uttar Pradesh, doused herself in kerosene and tried to self-immolate in protest against the alleged unwillingness of police to pursue her allegations. Uttar Pradesh is a state of 200 million residents with poverty and malnutrition levels close to those of sub-Saharan Africa and a reputation for lawlessness. The allegations have shocked Indians and prompted renewed scrutiny of the power wielded by politicians in small-town India.

The mother of the girl, who court documents say is 15, has alleged in a handwritten note to police that her daughter was raped on 9 June last year by two men one of whom was Kuldeep Singh Sengar, a member of the Uttar Pradesh parliament with the ruling Bharatiya Janata party. Her family had been unsuccessfully trying to convince police to register a case against the politician for months until last Tuesday, when the family allege Singh Sengar and his brother Atul Singh Sengar barged into their home at about 6pm with a group of men. “My two young girls were molested and when my husband protested he was tied to a tree and was beaten,” the woman alleged in her note. On Sunday, in front of the residence of the Uttar Pradesh chief minister, the girl tried to burn herself to death in protest against the official inaction. Police managed to stop her, but early the next morning, her father died in police custody after being admitted to hospital complaining of abdominal pain. Footage has been circulating on social media of the man in the police station lifting his shirt to show deep cuts and bruises on his face and along his legs and back. A toxicology report released to the media on Tuesday said he had died of “shock and septicaemia”. Police have suspended six officers and on Tuesday arrested Atul Singh Sengar. They have established a special investigative team to probe the rape allegations against his brother. Kuldeep Singh Sengar told the Guardian the allegations against him were “nonsense”. “I have been included in this case for no reason,” he said. “I am very innocent.” He has given a series of defiant interviews to local media including one on Monday in which he referred to the alleged victim and her family as “low class” people conspiring against him.

Speaking with a scarf around her face, the girl told the India Today television station on Tuesday that police were present at her father’s alleged beating “but did nothing”.

“[They] took him to the police station and put him in jail,” she said. “They did not take him to hospital – maybe if they had he could have been saved.” Her mother told the Indian Express newspaper the family were too afraid to return home and were staying in government accommodation in a nearby town. Singh Sengar, whose wife is also an elected official, has held his seat since 2002 and switched parties several times. “He is a party unto himself, which is the case with a lot of politicians in India,” said Sharat Pradhan, a journalist and political analyst in Uttar Pradesh. A report from Human Rights Watch last year found that Indian laws against sexual assault had substantially improved since a 2012 Delhi gang rape that prompted nationwide protests and became a catalyst for reform. But sexual assault victims’ efforts were frequently stymied by local officials who refused to implement the law, the report said. The chief minister of the state, Yogi Adityanath, called the incident “unfortunate” and promised a thorough investigation. “Whosoever is guilty will not be spared,” he said. The leader of the opposition Congress party, Rahul Gandhi, said the events mocked the government’s high-profile campaign to improve the welfare of girls and young women, called “Protect your daughter”. He tweeted in Hindi: “Protect your daughter and get killed.”

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