‘If You Raise a Voice, I Will Murder You’: A Teen Girl in India Was Raped by a Politician. Then the Alleged Cover-Up Began.

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July 20, 2021

When she was 16 years old, a girl in the state of Uttar Pradesh, India, was asked to visit the house of Kuldeep Singh Sengar, then a powerful local politician, for a job interview.

“He stripped me of my clothes. He closed the door and subjected me to a sexual assault,” the girl said in court testimony. “When I opposed, he said, ‘If you raise a voice, I will murder you.’”

So began a nightmare that continues today, some four years later, for the young woman, who has not been publicly identified.

“She told us that she has been receiving death threats and is under 24/7 police protection,” says journalist Ramita Navai, the correspondent on an upcoming special report, India’s Rape Scandal, from FRONTLINE and Channel 4.

But the young woman has raised her voice anyway.

The above excerpt from India’s Rape Scandal introduces the story of the young woman, whom the film team agreed to call Jaya. Hers is one in a wave of shocking rape cases in India — some of them drawing in politicians, like Sengar, from the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, or BJP — that have been accompanied by allegations of cover-ups, despite the fact that the government has vowed zero tolerance for sexual assault.

“Her allegation is that she tried to get a complaint registered against Kuldeep Sengar, but his name was repeatedly dropped out of the charge sheet and the complaint,” Aishwarya S. Iyer, a journalist for The Quint who has reported extensively on the case, says in the above excerpt. (The state’s chief minister publicly rejected criticisms that Sengar had been protected.)

As the documentary goes on to explore, Jaya did not give up calling for Sengar to be held accountable — even after her father was killed, followed by her lawyer and two aunts.

“It’s incredible how strong-willed this woman is,” Iyer says in the film. “To see death so close, to see your family being consumed by a complaint that you are raising and to still be at it. … It’s a stunning, stunning story.”

Although Sengar is now in prison for Jaya’s rape and his role in her father’s death, he still has a loyal following, the documentary reports.

In the film, Navai also investigates another alarming rape case in Uttar Pradesh that raised further allegations of political cover-ups. One of India’s most respected and senior legal figures told her these cases should be a wake-up call for more accountability concerning violence against women.

“Why should anybody, you know, remain silent when something like this happens?” Madan Lokur, a former judge on the country’s supreme court, says in the documentary. “You know, they should speak out. It doesn’t matter who the perpetrator is — the government, the state, the police machinery,  everyone should come out in the open and say that this is wrong.”

For the full story, watch India’s Rape Scandal, part two of an hour-long FRONTLINE broadcast on Tuesday, July 20 that begins with Leaving Afghanistan. With Navai as correspondent, India’s Rape Scandal is produced, filmed and directed by Jess Kelly and produced by Monika Ghosh, Swati Gupta and Riddhi Jha. Both India’s Rape Scandal and Leaving Afghanistan will be available to watch in full at pbs.org/frontline and in the PBS Video App starting Tuesday, July 20 at 7/6c. The hour will premiere on PBS stations (check local listings) and on YouTube at 10/9c. India’s Rape Scandal will premiere on Channel 4 in the UK on July 27.


Patrice Taddonio

Patrice Taddonio, Digital Writer & Audience Development Strategist, FRONTLINE

Twitter:

@ptaddonio

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