NEW DELHI – Indian investigators are probing possible links between a prominent ruling-party politician and a deadly car crash that has left a 19-year-old woman battling for her life after she accused him of rape.
The federal Central Bureau of Investigation opened a case Wednesday to look into murder and conspiracy allegations against Kuldeep Sengar, a lawmaker from the governing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The teenager was critically injured in a suspicious car crash Sunday, prompting her family to allege foul play. Two female family members were killed.
The Supreme Court, meanwhile, is looking into a letter that the girl had written to the chief justice expressing concern for her safety.
Her identity is being withheld, as Indian law mandates that victims of rape and sexual assault not be identified in the news media. The allegations have generated widespread outrage over the lax treatment of rape complaints by authorities.
The BJP has come under fire for a perceived lack of adequate action against its lawmaker.
“It is said a person is innocent until proven guilty,” said Rakesh Tripathi, the party’s spokesman in Uttar Pradesh, Sengar’s home state. Tripathi said Sengar has been suspended from the party and that further action would be taken if he is found guilty.
The crash is just the latest tragedy to befall the girl’s family since she made the allegations two years ago.
– June 4, 2017: The rape charge: The teenager has accused Sengar of raping her in 2017 when she approached him for a job. She said he threatened to kill her family if she spoke of it to anyone. She was 17 at the time of the alleged incident.
In an interview with the Indian Express newspaper, she said Sengar was a family friend whom she addressed as “brother.”
Sengar has denied the allegations, calling them a conspiracy against him.
– April 9, 2018: Her father’s death: The case grabbed attention in April 2018 when the woman tried to immolate herself outside the state chief minister’s home to protest police inaction on her rape complaint.
A day after the immolation attempt, her father was found dead in a jail where he was held in connection with another criminal case. The family alleged that he died of injuries he sustained in a brutal assault by Sengar’s brother, Atul Sengar, and other men just days before. A post-mortem examination found a dozen injuries on his body.
Authorities suspended six police officers and arrested Atul Sengar.
– April 13, 2018: Kuldeep Sengar ‘s arrest: The case was handed over to the Central Bureau of Investigation by a court, which criticized the government and police authorities for being “in league” with the accused.
Kuldeep Sengar was arrested by the federal agency on April 13, 2018, and was later charged with raping a minor.
In July, the agency charged five people, including Atul, in connection with the death of the girl’s father.
– December 27, 2018: Case against the accuser’s family:A complaint was registered against the girl, her mother and uncle in December 2018 for allegedly submitting forged documents as proof of being a minor. It was filed by the husband of a woman arrested in the case.
Earlier this month, the girl’s uncle was convicted in an unrelated case of attempted murder filed by Atul Sengar in 2000.
– July 28, 2018: The deadly crash:On Sunday, the teenager was traveling on a highway in a car with her lawyer and two female relatives when their vehicle was hit by a truck. The two women were killed, and the girl was rushed to a hospital, where she has been put on a ventilator. Her lawyer also is in critical condition.
A hospital spokesman told the Hindu newspaper that the girl suffered serious head injuries and multiple fractures.
Police initially were probing the crash as an accident. But after complaints by the girl’s family and protests from opposition parties, the federal agency that took over the case is looking into whether a conspiracy was involved, given that the truck’s license plate had been blacked out.
The girl’s family has claimed that they had been threatened by Sengar’s associates multiple times.