A pyre of FIRs: How a rape survivor tried and failed to get justice

After accusing BSP leader Atul Rai of rape, a young woman and her friend set themselves on fire. Theirs is a story of how the system can be misused to intimidate victims instead of coming to their aid.

WrittenBy:Akanksha Kumar
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On August 14, 2021, Reena*, 24, uploaded on Facebook an audio recording of a conversation she’d had with an official purportedly from the prime minister’s office.

Reena can be heard identifying herself as a resident of Varanasi, which is prime minister Narendra Modi’s constituency. She says she’s a victim and has suffered such character assasination that in the quest for justice, she finds herself in a position where the only option left is suicide.

The person listening to her ends the conversation by saying, “I will pray to God so that justice is served.”

On the same day, Reena’s friend Rajesh*, around 26, put up a video in which he said there were people putting pressure on Reena and him. “These people are trying to get us to drop the case so that they can make money off bribes from Atul Rai,” he claimed, adding that he’d also been told to not give his testimony in exchange for some money.

Rajesh is referring to Bahujan Samajwadi Party’s Atul Rai, 39, who has more than 20 criminal cases against him and who in 2019 won the parliamentary elections from Ghosi, Uttar Pradesh, as an absconder. The case in question is Reena’s accusation that Rai raped her on March 7, 2018. She filed a complaint against Rai in 2019.

Two days after their Facebook updates, on August 16, 2021, Rajesh and Reena set themselves ablaze outside the Supreme Court in New Delhi. Both of them succumbed to their injuries a few days later. Rajesh passed away on August 21, 2021 and Reena, on August 24, 2021.

By the end of August, a special investigation team would be set up by the Uttar Pradesh police to investigate Rajesh and Reena’s deaths. Rajesh’s childhood friend Sunil*, who had been accused of rape along with Rajesh in a separate case, would disappear; and a retired police officer would be arrested for abetting Reena’s suicide.

While the SIT did file its chargesheet on December 21, 2021, it’s difficult to see how justice will be served in this case.

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