A 23-YEAR-OLD woman, who was gangraped, is battling for life after she was set on fire with kerosene early Thursday morning in UP’s Unnao district
allegedly by five men, including two accused in the rape case of whom one was freed on bail a few days ago.
The woman’s family said she was on her way to catch a train to Rae Bareli in connection with the rape case when she was waylaid by the accused. Police said the woman, who was engulfed in flames, started running towards the nearest police station around 3 km from the spot near her house before local residents doused the fire and police rushed her to the local health centre.
She was then taken to the district hospital and referred to a hospital in Lucknow. The UP government later flew her in an air ambulance to Delhi for treatment at a city hospital where doctors said she had suffered “95 per cent burns” and was “critical”. “She is in the ICU ward. The chances of her survival are dismal. We are monitoring her condition,” said a senior doctor from the hospital.
Police said the accused were identified by the woman in her statement to the Sub Divisional Magistrate.
An FIR has been registered under IPC sections 326 (causing grievous hurt by dangerous weapons or means), 307 (attempt to murder) and 506 (criminal intimidation) against two accused on a complaint from the woman’s brother. However, the families of the accused have denied all allegations and demanded a CBI investigation in the case.
The incident triggered a political firestorm with Opposition Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra accusing Union Home Minister Amit Shah and UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath of indulging in “false propaganda” while referring to their recent statements about the law and order situation in UP. SP leader Akhilesh Yadav demanded the resignation of the entire state cabinet.
This is the second such case from Unnao to make national headlines after a woman accused former BJP MLA Kuldeep Sengar of rape in 2017 when she was just 17.
Chief Minister Adityanath, meanwhile, directed officials to ensure strict action against the accused and allot government funds for the woman’s treatment. In a statement, the Chief Minister also directed the Lucknow Divisional Commissioner and Inspector General of Police to visit the spot and submit their report by the end of the day.
Later, his office posted a tweet in Hindi, saying that it is “the duty of the government to maintain the dignity of sisters and daughters of the state”. Describing “incidents of rape” as a “blot on society”, Adityanath wrote that “there is no place for such culprits in the state”. He promised “strict action against such criminals” and wrote that “even the officers responsible would not be spared”.
The National Commission for Women (NCW) sought an action-taken report from UP Police.
According to Unnao police, two FIRs had been registered — one in Unnao and another in Rae Bareli — on charges of rape against the two accused in March based on the woman’s complaint. The FIRs, with similar content, were later merged and Rae Bareli police started investigation in the case.
According to the FIR, one of the accused tricked the woman into having a relationship with him, sexually assaulted her in Rae Bareli and made a video of the incident.
“The accused kept raping the woman after blackmailing her over the video, and on pretext of marriage. When the woman pressured him for marriage, he brought her to Rae Bareli and kept her in a rented room… In January 2018, he went to Rae Bareli Civil Court and prepared a marriage obligation letter but dropped her back at her house a month later. Scared, she started living with her aunt in Rae Bareli. In December, he came with his friend the . He took her to a field where the two sexually assaulted her at gunpoint,” read the FIR registered under IPC sections 376 D (gangrape) and 506 (criminal intimidation).
According to ADG Lucknow, the main accused was arrested and sent to jail, while another accused was declared absconding. Police said the main accused was granted bail on November 25 but his family members said he came home “around four days ago”.
“The incident took place around 4 am Thursday. The woman’s family has claimed that she left her home alone for the railway station. Around a kilometre from her house, both the accused allegedly caught her and set her on fire. I reached the spot and rushed her to the Community Health Centre after dousing the fire,” said the Station House Officer.
Local residents told The Indian Express at the village that the accused and the woman were “friends since childhood”. They studied together in school, the woman’s sister-in-law said. The woman is a graduate while the two accused are college students, she said.
The victim’s brother, who lodged the complaint Thursday, alleged that since the FIR on rape was registered, the families of the accused have been threatening the woman. “They threatened to burn my sister alive if we did not withdraw the case,” said the brother.
Local police said another brother of the woman told them that he was supposed to accompany her but she left without waking him. Police said they were yet ascertain why the woman wanted to go to Rae Bareli since “there was no hearing or new development in the case”.
However, one of the accused’s mother alleged that the woman wanted to marry the main accused since his family was “wealthier”. “My family members are innocent and are being framed,” she claimed. She also claimed that those arrested were sleeping in their homes and came to know about the incident only when police arrived.
Late Thursday, forensic experts were seen taking soil samples from the spot, which is a deserted area surrounded by fields and trees. The experts recovered a plastic bottle that police suspect was used to carry kerosene for the attack.