A Delhi sessions court today convicted four-time MLA Kuldeep Singh Sengar for raping a minor in Uttar Pradesh’s Unnao in 2017. Sengar was expelled from the Bharatiya Janata Party in August.
The court also gave the co-accused, Shashi Singh, the benefit of the doubt and acquitted her of conspiring with Sengar. In its order, the court noted: “…it appears that the accused is a victim of circumstances herself.”
The court’s verdict comes exactly seven years since the horrific Delhi gang-rape case that shook the conscious of the nation.
District and Sessions Judge Dharmesh Sharma had reserved his verdict on the issue last week. Sharma, who was handpicked by the Supreme Court to hear the matter on a daily basis, pronounced his verdict this afternoon before a limited audience. The area outside the courtroom was crowded with police personnel, keeping watch for any sign of trouble.
Owing to the sensitive nature of the trial, the entry of people allowed to attend the proceedings today was limited. Only lawyers from both sides, journalists, the police and the accused with their families were allowed. It appeared that no one from the victim’s family was present. Advocates Poonam Kaushik and Dharmesh Mishra were counsels for the victim.
Ten minutes before the judge was slated to announce his decision, Sharma took stock of the situation outside the courtroom. He asked Kaushik whether there were any protests or instances of stone-pelting. Kaushik — who is also the general secretary of the Pragatisheel Mahila Sanghathan, a women’s group — replied in the negative. Sharma then went into chambers and asked his staff to inform him when the accused, Sengar and Singh, arrived.
Five minutes later, Sengar and Singh were escorted into the courtroom by the police with their family. The judge was informed and he came out soon after.
Sharma at first appreciated the “cordial atmosphere” and the fast pace at which the trial was conducted on a daily basis since August 5. He apologised for not being able to deliver judgements in the four other related cases since the number of accused in those cases are close to 11. Sharma said he hoped to deliver the verdict in those matters by next month.
The four other cases include conspiracy of Sengar and others in a road accident that severely injured the victim and her lawyer and killed two of the victim’s relatives, a separate case of gangrape of the victim by three others, and charges against Sengar and others for allegedly framing the victim’s father and his subsequent death in judicial custody.
Sengar’s fingerprints visible in harassment of family
While reading the concluding portion of the order, Sharma observed that the investigative agency, the Central Bureau of Investigation, had managed to prove that the victim had been a minor at the time of the incident in 2017. Hence, the provisions of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act were applicable here.
He said, “The evidence given by the victim that she was assaulted is unblemished, truthful and of sterling quality to arrive at the conclusion that she was sexually assaulted by accused Kuldeep Singh Senger.”
Sharma was also satisfied with the explanation given by the victim over the two-month delay in reporting the matter to the police. “She is a village girl under threat (from people who are allegedly in a powerful position) and not from the metropolitan city,” the judge said. “I also don’t buy the argument that the case was foisted on Sengar by the victim’s uncle…When the matter was reported in 2017, a tirade was unleashed against the family and cases were slapped.”
In his order, Sharma noted: “The instant case manifest the multitudes of restrictions and taboos within which many women in the rural areas are brought up, grow and survive. It epitomises the fear ingrained in the mind of the young girl in the countryside or elsewhere against reporting issues of sexual assault by powerful adults.”
He continued, “In my opinion, this investigation has suffered from patriarchal approach or inherent outlook to brush the issues of sexual violence against the children under the carpet apart from exhibiting the lack of sensitivity and lack of humane approach.”
“Sengar’s fingerprint is visible in this (harassment of family),” the judge said.
CBI criticism and POCSO
Sharma pulled up the CBI for its lax investigation, questioning its delay in filing the chargesheet a year after the investigation was completed. He also questioned the leaks in the investigation — details only the investigation officer could be privy to. The spate of applications by the complainants on various issues reflected details that was selectively leaked to them, Sharma noted.
Sharma, who was the chairman of the Delhi Legal Service Authority, said there is nothing wrong in the spirit and law of the Protection of Children against Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act. “There is ineffective implementation of the act on the ground due to multitudes of sterotypes outlook towards the commission of sexual assault against children or women.”
He added, “There aren’t enough sensitive officers to understand the victim.” He wondered if the CBI had any women officers to investigate such sensitive cases, since one of the provisions of the law was to have female officers questioning victims.
The CBI was also pulled up for its insensitivity. Sharma pointed out that the agency had repeatedly called the victim to its office for questioning, instead of going to the victim to probe for details, thereby “violating the law”. This resulted in the “revictimisation” of the girl, Sharma observed.
The judge junked the defence’s arguments on Sengar’s alibi at the time of the crime, saying the explanation submitted by Sengar did not match the record of movement as cross-checked by phone records. “Aap doshi hai (You are responsible),” he told Sengar. “Nabalik ka balatkar kiya (You raped a minor).”
Co-accused is ‘victim of circumstance’
“I have my doubts about Shashi Singh,” Sharma said.
At this, Singh, who was accused of conspiring with Sengar, cried out “nahi, sir” and burst into tears. Sharma said he did not completely buy the prosecution’s case against her but added, “Main aapko bari kar deta hu (I am acquitting you).” There was a “motherly drive” that compelled her to save her son, Sharma observed.
However, Singh did not hear any of this because by then, she was in a state of shock. Despite Sharma’s repetition of “aap bari ho gayi (you have been acquitted)”, Singh did not seem to hear him and eventually fainted.
As women police officials took care of Singh and tried to revive her, Sharma read out the remaining portion of the verdict. In between his observations, he asked after Singh and ensured that a doctor and an ambulance was at hand. “Paani pilado (give her water),” he said.
The hearing lasted for 20 minutes. However, the session went on even longer as the lawyers jockeyed to fix a suitable date for arguments on the quantum of sentence. They finally settled on Tuesday, December 17.
When everything was over, Sengar and his wife Sangeeta, who sat in the front row, broke down. On the other end of the row, a crowd had gathered, trying to revive Singh. “Aapko bari kar diya hai,” a women officer kept saying, trying to console her.
Sengar and his wife locked hands and cried even as they were surrounded by lawyers, mediapersons and the police.