Quick, not hasty: On Kuldeep Singh Sengar conviction

Real deterrence is when there is certainty of punishment without justice-denying delays

The trial court verdict finding former BJP legislator Kuldeep Singh Sengar guilty of raping a minor girl from Unnao in Uttar Pradesh underscores the merits of a justice system that managed to overcome initial apathy and take the investigation to its logical end. The Supreme Court transferred the Unnao cases involving Sengar and his associates from Lucknow to Delhi on August 1 and set a 45-day deadline for completing the trial. That the judgment is out before the end of the year, with the sessions court recording a conviction for rape under the IPC and penetrative sexual assault on a minor under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, shows a welcome sense of urgency. The sentencing, a few days on, holds out hope that the guilty politician may have to serve a minimum of 10 years or life imprisonment. Judge Dharmesh Sharma’s judgment has struck a blow for a system about which there is much cynicism over justice-denying delays. The history of this case also reveals the difficult path to justice that survivors of sexual offences have to tread. It highlights a principal systemic problem: how the unequal power relations between perpetrator and victim will almost succeed in silencing the survivor, but for the intervention of superior courts.

Threatened into silence for two months, the survivor and her family ultimately reported the crime, only to face fierce retribution. She drew attention to her plight by threatening to set herself ablaze outside U.P. Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath’s residence in April 2018. Her father, arrested in a case under the Arms Act, died mysteriously in judicial custody. The girl also revealed that a week after the MLA’s crime, his associates once again abducted and raped her. It was only after the Supreme Court transferred the investigation to the CBI, and later the trial to Delhi, that justice was seen to be done. The court also pulled up the CBI for delaying the charge-sheet in the second case and not adhering to victim-friendly norms during the probe. A key lesson is that justice is not necessarily about giving the death penalty for rape through rapid-fire trials. It should mean that perpetrators should fear the certainty of punishment, and live with the taint of guilt for long years in prison. This is a point that knee-jerk law-making, of the sort that Andhra Pradesh has done, and the public clamour for executing all rape suspects, of the sort seen after the rape and murder of a veterinarian near Hyderabad, seem to miss. The essential framework of justice in rape cases should consist in a quick, but not hasty, probe by investigators and prosecutors sensitised to the travails of survivors, especially children, and a conducive atmosphere for them to depose during trial. The resulting lengthy jail terms will constitute both just deserts for grave crimes and an opportunity for remorse.

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Printable version | Apr 9, 2020 8:11:22 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/quick-not-hasty-on-kuldeep-singh-sengar-conviction/article30341713.ece

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