For almost a week now, the Tis Hazari district court in New Delhi has been hearing arguments in the Unnao rape case on a day-to-day basis. Such is the importance, and urgency, of completing the trial within 45 days that Judge Dharmesh Sharma even held a hearing last Saturday—second Saturday of the month when courts across the country remain shut.
Today, the court clubbed two out of four cases in the Unnao rape incident, that is, the case of false implication of the victim’s father under Arms Act, and the case of the father’s death on April 9, 2018, while he was in judicial custody.
The court also charged ex-BJP MLA Kuldeep Sengar and his brother Atul Sengar with the murder of the rape survivor’s father, as well as for framing him (the father) in an Arms Act case.
During the pre-lunch proceedings, the counsel for the victim, advocate Dharmendra Kumar Mishra told the court: “Something very serious is happening.” He went on to allege that earlier in the day, Kuldeep Sengar, who was sitting in the front row of the courtroom, was talking to a man sitting next to him, when he pointed towards Mishra, gesturing his thumb running across his throat. This allegedly happened twice. “Today, Sengar has directed two persons while pointing towards me…”
Mishra also alleged that this was the third time such a gesture had been made towards him in the past week.
“Move an application,” judge Sharma told him. When the court broke for lunch, the CBI had a word with the person who was allegedly sitting next to Sengar when Sengar made this gesture towards the defence counsel. Mishra then submitted a hand-written application to the court during the post-lunch proceedings.
“An application has been moved and brought to the notice of the court, detailing all facts, for appropriate consideration of this court,” he said, speaking with Newslaundry. “A gesture was made to another person (by Sengar), pointing towards me, threatening to eliminate me. I was avoiding filing a complaint up until now, but the threat is real.”
When the post-lunch session commenced, judge Sharma asked CBI to “get everyone to write their names” before entering the courtroom, except for media persons, who would be required to show their press card. “If allegations are levelled, then we have to see into it…there is a lot more to the story than what meets the eye. If any independent person is coming, get them to write their names.”
He also said that “if any nuisance is being created, I will check that.”
At the end of the day’s proceedings, judge Sharma also sought a “threat perception” report from the CBI.
Regarding the clubbing of two cases, that is, the case of false implication of the survivor’s father under Arms act and the case of the father’s death while in judicial custody, judge Sharma said he finds that there is a case of clubbing because the registered complaint (RC) in the case of the Arms Act is the “foundation” for the RC in the case of death of the father.
“To me, if I believe your (CBI) story as gospel truth…that it was part of a larger conspiracy that he (father) was beaten, paraded around naked…when I go through the documents prima facie at this stage, the wife of the deceased and two others were also assaulted. Police reached on time but didn’t intervene…”
He further cited that the police had taken the father to the police station, where he was planted with a desi katta and cartridges. “Obviously, when he was allegedly falsely implicated, he was sent to judicial custody and he died there. Whether the act is under part one, two or three…that is for the trial to see.”
“Whether there was intention, knowledge that was so imminently dangerous…it’s all a matter of trial. To me, it was a series of acts with a larger conspiracy to deter and silence…,” he said.
Judge Sharma also pointed out that there were 18 differently categorised injuries on the body when the father was examined at the hospital—but there were only 14 injuries mentioned in the post mortem report.
He remarked that there were 50 witnesses in the registered complaint of the Arms Act case, and 76 witnesses in connection with the case of the father’s death in judicial custody. Between these two cases, 43 of the witnesses are common. “To me, it’s part of the same transaction.”
Examination of witnesses to begin on August 16
During the course of Tuesday’s proceedings, public prosecutor Ashok Bhartendu submitted on behalf of the CBI that “since the matter is related to POCSO, proceedings should be in-camera.”
He also submitted that keeping in mind the witnesses’ vulnerability and the threat-perception looming large over them, arrangements should be made for conducting a trial not just in-camera, but also in a “secure atmosphere”.
The counsel for the victim, Dharmendra Kumar Mishra and Poonam Kaushik, made submissions, including under Sections 5 and 6 of POCSO in the already-framed rape charges against Sengar in the case of rape.
The court said it would pronounce an order on the alteration/modification of charges by Wednesday morning.
There was also a long debate on the term “public servant.” Bhartendu said: “As per the stand of the prosecution…as far as the application of Section 5 of POCSO is concerned, there is no legal impediment in amending the charge to incorporate it. As far as veracity of charges that are already framed…the prosecution says that there is no extensive amendments that is required,” he said.
“Moreover, it just happens to be a charge. It can be amended at any point of time. What is important is that the trial should begin at this point,” he said.
“Let there be nothing reported by the media when it comes to examination of witnesses,” judge Sharma reminded members of the press.
The CBI then submitted that they would be examining two witnesses on August 16, and three witnesses on August 17.
Judge Sharma asked CBI, “how many witnesses have you given up?” To which Bhartendu replied that as of now, they had dropped around 20-25 witnesses. “There will be around 20,” he told the court. “We will avoid repetition as well.”
At the end of the day’s proceedings, the court also cancelled the bail bonds of the three Unnao policemen linked to the case and charged them with murder as well. They were then taken into judicial custody.
Kuldeep Singh Sengar denied all the charges. The arguments will continue tomorrow.