Former legislator Kuldeep Singh Sengar of India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was found guilty of rape on Monday in one of India’s most closely-watched sexual assault trials.
Modi and his party have come under heated criticism for the high incidence of sexual assault in India and were specifically condemned for failing to act quickly enough against Sengar.
Opposition leader Rahul Gandhi has refused to apologize after outrage last week following his accusations against Prime Minister Narendra Modi for tolerating rape culture, declaring, “Narendra Modi has said ‘Made in India,’ but nowadays wherever you look, it’s ‘Rape in India.'”
“Modi said ‘protect girls and educate them,’ but he didn’t say who their daughters should be protected from. Should they be protected from BJP MLAs?” Gandhi said, referring to Sengar’s former title.
The victim of the assault was 17 when she was attacked in 2017. She claimed she was lured to Sengar’s home with promises he would help her find a job and was assaulted by Sengar and several accomplices.
In April 2018, she made a public suicide attempt outside the home of the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, India’s most heavily populated state, and then again at the police station after she was taken into protective custody. She told reporters she was despondent over the lack of legal action against Sengar and his accomplices and her family lived in terror after suffering beatings and threats from Sengar’s defenders. Her father died in police custody soon afterward.
The victim was injured in a car crash in July, and two of her relatives were killed, an incident many believe was a failed assassination attempt.
Sengar was finally arrested and expelled from the BJP in August 2019 after a long period of silence from party officials and prominent elected politicians. Sengar won four terms in the Uttar Pradesh state legislature under three different parties during his political career. He was so popular that BJP wooed him because they noticed the districts around his always voted for whichever party he belonged to. Other local legislators were willing to visit him in jail to thank him for his political support after he was finally arrested on rape and kidnapping charges.
Sengar was convicted Monday on charges of raping a minor under India’s Protection of Children from Sexual Offenses Act, a 2012 law that was amended with Prime Minister Modi’s approval in 2019 to include tougher punishments, including the death penalty for aggravated sexual assault against children. The court ruling sternly criticized Indian federal investigators for acting so slowly to file charges against Sengar. His sentencing is expected later this week.