Sengar’s expulsion from the BJP following the national outcry following the victim's freak road accident appears to have done little to dent his authority in the village....
An eerie silence pervades Makhi, the village of the rape victim who is battling for her life in a Lucknow hospital, a sharp contrast to the uproar in places like Delhi where groups of activists and ordinary people have held protest marches demanding justice for her.
More importantly, as you are reminded at every step and with almost every conversation in this part of Unnao district of Uttar Pradesh, this is the village of the alleged perpetrator, MLA Kuldeep Singh Sengar.
“Vidhayak (legislator) ji can do no wrong,” says one person, from among a group of villagers near Sengar’s palatial residential complex, echoing the general refrain. The few who speak up for the victim and her ravaged family do so in hushed voices.
Sengar’s expulsion from the BJP following the national outcry after a truck hit the car in which the rape victim was travelling, killing her two aunts and leaving her critically injured, appears to have done little to dent his authority in the village.
His residential complex has a big Ram temple and a private school run by him. He also owns over 100 acres of land in the village, a cold storage and a brick kiln. He is a four-time MLA from three different parties, his wife is the zila panchayat chief and his sister-in-law is the gram pradhan. He may have been in prison for over a year, and now expelled from the ruling party, but nobody dares cross him on his native turf.
Near his house, a posse of policemen are guarding the dilapidated house of the rape victim which lies abandoned. A CRPF contingent also arrived on Friday after the Supreme Court’s orders.
Sengar’s family, meanwhile, has put up CCTV cameras outside its house, apparently to keep a watch on the path leading to the victim’s house. His dabdaba (influence), as another group of villagers put it, shows in the fact that although he was in jail, local election posters put up during Lok Sabha polls carried his pictures prominently. Later, Sakshi Maharaj went to thank Sengar in jail after winning the election from Unnao.
The MLA’s clout is evident in other ways as well. In 2004, his brother Atul Sengar shot at an IPS officer, Ramlal Verma, then additional superintendent of police of Unnao, who wanted to check the family’s activity of illegal mining. Till date, the case is pending in court. Verma, now a DIG in Kanpur, filed an application under Right to Information Act to know why the case was not moving, only to learn that the entire case diary had gone missing from the records.
Sengar holds three guns but the licence of none has been cancelled in the past one year while the victim’s family and her lawyer could not get a gun licence despite repeated pleas.
In this part of the state, even luck seems to go Sengar’s way. In 2016, for instance, when the district panchayat elections were held and Sengar (then a Samajwadi Party MLA) put up his wife Sangita Singh as an independent candidate after the SP refused to give her the party ticket. Sangita and the SP candidate finished with the same number of votes, a coin was flipped and Sangita won the chair. Sengar later ditched the SP to join the BJP and won as MLA again in 2017.
THE FALLING OUT
Tales of the closeness and then a bitter rivalry between Sengar and the victim’s family are folklore in Makhi. Locals speak of how the victim’s grandfather was once a Sengar family loyal and her uncle was virtually Sengar’s right-hand man in criminal activities till about 15 years ago, when the MLA’s brother Atul accused both the victim’s father and uncle of a murderous assault.
While the father was acquitted, the uncle went missing, shifted base to Delhi and it was only a non-bailable warrant issued by the court last year in this case that led the UP police to finally arrest him from Delhi. A quick trial saw him being sentenced to 10 years in jail last month. The verdict was celebrated in Makhi village, where locals told ET he got what he deserved – for “plotting against Vidhayak ji”.
Things came to a head between the two families in 2015. This was when, in the 2015 gram panchayat election, Atul Sengar put up his wife Archana Singh as a candidate while the rape victim’s mother decided to contest too, according to locals. This became an issue of prestige as the Sengar family had held control over the post of gram pradhan for nearly 50 years, with Sengar himself being the first gram pradhan, followed by his mother Chunni Devi for nearly 10 years.
“Under pressure, the victim’s mother withdrew her nomination and Archana won. But the die had been cast for a showdown,” said a villager, who did not wish to be identified.
THE RAPE CASE
On June 11, 2017 the victim went missing and her mother lodged a first information report on charges of rape and kidnapping against four people of the village – Awadhesh Singh, Shubham and latter’s mother Shashi Singh and sister. They are said to be close to Sengar. She was allegedly raped in a car, at Shubham’s house and later sold for Rs 60,000 to a person in Agra.
UP Police recovered her on June 20 from Auriya district and her parents brought her home from a Child Welfare Society to Delhi on June 30 in a frightened and tormented mental state. She then told her family that Shashi had taken her to Sengar’s house in Makhi earlier on June 4, when the MLA too raped her.
On August 17, 2017, the victim gave an application saying so but UP Police did not lodge any FIR till she attempted self-immolation outside Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath’s house last year in April. A day later, her father was found dead in custody.
In Makhi, most villagers dismiss the rape charges against the MLA. An aide of Sengar asked why the girl had not mentioned that she was raped or named the MLA in her statement recorded before a magistrate in July.
He says her August 17 complaint naming the MLA was an “after-thought” after the police did not charge-sheet Shubham’s mother and sister in the July 11 rape matter, apparently because Sengar prevailed upon the cops to not do so saying the two women were innocent. “This made the girl’s family come after Vidhayak ji. They implicated him for rape that had never happened… implicating Shashi too saying she brought her to the MLA,” his aide said. The CBI, which later chargesheeted both Sengar and Shashi in this case, says the rape stands substantiated.
What weakens Sengar’s stand further is that after a court took cognisance of the rape complaint against him and was set to summon him for a hearing on April 12 last year, the victim’s father was assaulted by Sengar’s brother Atul Sengar on April 3 and jailed in collusion with the local police in a false arms act case – a charge CBI has upheld. He died in custody a few days later.
A FAMILY DESTROYED
Between the claims and counterclaims, a few in Makhi do sympathise with the victim’s family but are afraid to do so publicly. “It may have been a family of criminals and historysheeters but the family has been wiped out. There has to be a rule of law. There is no one left to even pursue the matter in court. Something is amiss here… this so-called accident too,” said a person, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Locals say they are tired of the constant gaze of the media as well as the CBI, which had earlier questioned many villagers at length. The victim shifted base to Delhi about a year ago, but she came back to Makhi on July 20 to be able to meet her uncle who was in Rae Bareli jail after being sentenced for 10 years.
Many in her own village do not wish to see her. They see her as trouble.--ET