July 31, 2019 / 10:52 AM / 4 months ago

India's top court to probe threat accusations against politician accused of rape

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - India’s Supreme Court will look into accusations that a powerful regional politician threatened the family of a woman who accused him of rape, the chief justice said on Wednesday, stepping into a case that has triggered outrage.

People burn an effigy depicting Kuldeep Singh Sengar, a legislator of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), during a protest demanding justice for a woman who is fighting a rape case against the legislator, in Kolkata, India, July 31, 2019. REUTERS/Rupak De Chowdhuri

The case has become a political embarrassment for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) as the legislator belongs to the ruling party and opposition groups accuse the government of moving too slowly to investigate.

The woman is battling for her life after a weekend car crash in her northern home state of Uttar Pradesh that police are investigating after her family said they were being targeted.

Weeks before the collision, the family wrote to the Supreme Court saying they faced threats from the legislator she accused, and the chief justice said he would look into the matter.

“We (will) try to do something constructive in the midst of this highly destructive volatile environment,” Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi said in court.

The state legislator, Kuldeep Singh Sengar, has denied the accusation of rape and any involvement in the car crash that has brought the case back into the public spotlight.

A lawyer for Sengar declined to comment to Reuters on Wednesday’s news of the Supreme Court move.

The woman was still critical, said staff at the hospital in the state capital of Lucknow. Her lawyer, who was travelling with her, is also fighting for his life.

Opposition leaders accuse the BJP of protecting Sengar after the case stirred public attention in 2018, when the woman tried to kill herself, saying police had refused to take her complaint.

“I hope the victims will now get justice,” said Mayawati, a former chief minister of the state and the leader of a major regional party, welcoming the Supreme Court’s intervention.

Reuters reviewed a copy of the family’s letter that said Sengar’s relatives and associates had twice threatened grave consequences in July if they pursued the matter.

Modi, who won a general election by a landslide in May after a campaign that promised greater attention to women’s safety, including swift investigation and trial for rapes, has not commented on the case.

His party is also in power in Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state.

Reporting by Suchitra Mohanty; Writing by Devjyot Ghoshal; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani and Clarence Fernandez

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