Indian politician charged with murder over car crash involving rape victim

Uttar Pradesh state legislator is already in jail after Indian teenager accused him of raping her in 2017

Indian women protest to call for swift justice for rape victims. Ajit Solanki / AP Photo
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Murder charges have been filed against an Indian politician accused of raping a teenager after his alleged victim was involved in a car crash that killed two of her aunts and left her and her lawyer in critical condition.

Police registered a case of murder against Kuldeep Singh Sengar, a state legislator in Uttar Pradesh, based on the family's complaint that he was behind the collision on Sunday between a lorry and the car the teenager was travelling in.

Police said they had arrested the lorry driver and were investigating claims that it may have been an attempt to silence the girl.

"We are analysing all the aspects, we are looking into call details and have recorded statements of eye witnesses," state police chief O P Singh said.

Indian media reported that the state police had accepted the family's request that the incident be investigated by the federal investigation agency which is already looking into the rape allegation.

The 19-year-old accused state legislator Mr Sengar, a member of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), of raping her at his home in 2017, but police in the notoriously lawless state initially refused to take action.

Her father was then detained by police and severely beaten in custody – allegedly by the legislator's brother – and died from his injuries.

Months later, the woman tried to set herself on fire outside the home of Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath, a BJP stalwart.

Protests across India led to the case being handed over to federal investigators who arrested Mr Sengar last year. He remains in jail after being charged in what has come to be known as the Unnao rape case after the city where alleged assault occurred.

The woman's family said the crash was a deliberate bid to kill her so that the rape case does not go to trial. According to police officials quoted by local media, the alleged victim was provided with a 10-man security detail – seven to protect her home and three personal bodyguards – but none were travelling with her because there was no space in the car.

India's parliament was briefly suspended on Monday because of opposition protests over the case.

"There could be a possibility of murder behind this incident," said Akhilesh Yadav, a former Uttar Pradesh chief minister and head of the regional Samajwadi Party.

But police chief Singh said the crash "appears to be purely a road accident".

He said the truck was speeding, but declined further comment while an investigation went ahead.

However, media reports said suspicions had been raised because the truck's registration number was painted over.

Priyanka Gandhi, a leader of the opposition Congress party, said the accident was "shocking" and questioned why Mr Sengar was still a member of the BJP.

The case has shone a spotlight on India's atrocious record on rape. Nearly 40,000 cases are reported every year, according to official figures.

Campaigners say the real number is higher, with victims wary of filing cases because of the social stigma and a lack of faith in investigators.

On Monday, a 36-year-old woman died after she set herself on fire in the western city of Jaipur, accusing police of inaction over her rape complaint.