An Indian teenager who accused a senior politician of rape is fighting for her life after being critically injured in a car crash that killed two relatives, raising suspicions of foul play.
Her lawyer was also badly injured in the accident, which occurred in northern Uttar Pradesh state Sunday when a truck collided with their car.
Police said Monday they had arrested the truck driver and were investigating claims that it may have been a hit to silence the young woman.
“We are analysing all the aspects, we are looking into call details and have recorded statements of eye witnesses,” state police chief O.P. Singh told reporters in Lucknow, the state capital.
The National Commission of Women, a top rights body, urged police to conduct an “absolutely free, fair and speedy” probe and said its team would soon meet the teenager’s family.
The 19-year-old accused state lawmaker Kuldeep Singh Sengar from the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of raping her at his home in 2017, but police in the notoriously lawless state initially refused to take action.
Her father was detained by police and severely beaten in custody — allegedly by Sengar’s brother — before dying from his injuries.
The teenager also tried to set herself on fire outside the home of Uttar Pradesh leader Yogi Adityanath, a BJP stalwart, triggering nationwide outrage.
Protests across India led to the case being handed over to federal investigators who arrested Sengar last year. He denies the accusations.
Supporters held a rally for the teenager in the nation’s capital New Delhi late Monday, holding up banners with the words “you are not alone” in Hindi.
“As citizens, we came out to say ‘this is unjust’,” Yogendra Yadav, an academic and politician who heads the socio-political organisation Swaraj India, told AFP.
“And we are here just to tell that brave girl who has suffered so much during the last two years that this country’s conscience is with you.”
– Uproar in parliament – The woman’s family said the crash was a deliberate attempt to kill her so the rape case does not go to trial.
India’s parliament was briefly suspended Monday because of opposition protests over the case.
“There could be a possibility of murder behind this incident,” said Akhilesh Yadav, a former Uttar Pradesh chief minister and head of the regional Samajwadi Party.
But police chief Singh said the crash “appears to be purely a road accident”.
He said the truck was speeding, but declined to comment further while an investigation was ongoing.
However, media reports said suspicions had been raised because the truck’s registration number was painted over.
Priyanka Gandhi, a leader of the opposition Congress party, said the accident was “shocking” and questioned why Sengar was still a member of the BJP.
The case has shone a spotlight on India’s atrocious record on rape. Nearly 40,000 cases are reported every year, according to official figures.
Campaigners say the real number is higher, with victims wary of filing cases because of the social stigma and a lack of faith in investigators.
On Monday, a 36-year-old woman died after she set herself on fire in the western city of Jaipur, accusing police of inaction over her rape complaint.