Indian police on Thursday (12) opened a rape inquiry against a powerful lawmaker from prime minister Narendra Modi’s ruling party in a case that has cast a new spotlight on impunity enjoyed by the elite.
Kuldeep Singh Sengar and his brothers are accused of raping a 16-year-old girl in Unnao district of Uttar Pradesh state, where he is a state lawmaker for the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
Sengar, 51, is a powerful politician in the state. Local police refused to take action until the state chief minister ordered an inquiry Wednesday night and handed over the probe to federal investigators.
“A case has been registered against him and now the CBI (Central Bureau of Investigation) will decide what action needs to be taken,” Om Prakash Singh, the state police chief, told a press conference.
The alleged abduction and rape took place in June last year. The case sparked new headlines after the victim’s father died of injuries last week reportedly sustained while in police custody.
The victim attempted to set herself on fire outside the chief minister’s residence on Sunday. She says her father was tortured by police and was arrested for trying to pursue the case.
Sengar, who is a four-time lawmaker in the state known for lawlessness, has denied the charges.
“I am a disciplined BJP worker. I am innocent. I am being implicated,” he told reporters in Lucknow, the state capital.
Amnesty India has slammed authorities for their tardy investigation into the case.
“There must be an immediate, independent and impartial investigation into these violations, and authorities must take all steps to ensure that the survivor and her family are protected from any further harassment,” Amnesty India’s Asmita Basu said in a statement.
Sexual crimes in India have faced growing scrutiny since the gang rape and murder of a Delhi student in 2012.
The horrific killing drew global attention and unleashed seething public anger in India about rampant sexual violence against women.
It led to an overhaul of India’s rape laws but high numbers of assaults persist.
Nearly 40,000 rape cases are reported every year, according to official figures.
Campaigners though say the real number is higher, with victims wary of how their complaints will be dealt with or the social stigma attached to sex crimes.