is remember sitting in the pub many years ago with a lawyer friend who had just been to his first trial. It was a sexual assault. “I’m glad we took a case,” he said, emptying the first of many shots. “Because there isn’t a single piece of it that’s good. “
And so to the last documentary of Channel 4’s flagship news installment, Dispatches, a flawless connection in which, in the same way, there is not a piece that is enjoyable. The usually succinct and heartbreaking hour is titled The Rape Scandal in India and follows two of the most high-profile rapes of unimaginably brutal brutality that are becoming notorious in the country. Rape is reported to police every 15 minutes in India, but over 90% of these assaults are estimated to go unreported.
The two cases here, which occurred in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, go a long way in explaining why this rate is so low. The program traces the efforts of some police and politicians to cover up the crimes and prevent the perpetrators from being arrested, let alone tried and brought to justice. The depth and breadth of the apparent corruption traced by journalist and presenter Ramita Navai is something to be seen.
A woman known here as Jaya was raped at the age of 17, she said, by powerful BJP politician Kuldeep Singh Sengar, whom she had gone to her home for a job interview. When he was done, he wiped away her tears and promised her a decent job. She was subsequently kidnapped, drugged and raped until she was found by police eight days later. They threatened her and warned her to keep silent.
With the support of her family, Jaya demanded that the police register her complaint and then forward it to the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, Yogi Adityanath. Soon after, his uncle was jailed on a false charge and his father was ambushed and beaten so badly that he died three days later. Jaya sacrificed herself in front of Adityanath’s residence. She survived, but the self-immolation first drew attention to her case and the Delhi government ordered an investigation – essentially a vote of no confidence in the local police.
Shortly afterwards, a truck crashed into a car carrying Jaya, her two aunts and her lawyer. Only Jaya survived, with serious injuries. The Indian Supreme Court ordered her 24-hour protection and Sengar was brought to justice for her rape and the murder of her father (the accident, meanwhile, was considered an accident). She testified from her hospital bed. He was sentenced to life for the rape charge and 10 years for the murder. He was granted leave to appeal. Jaya still lives under police surveillance.
The second cover-up, of gang rape (involving a strangulation and a fractured spine) of 19-year-old Manisha Valmiki, was perhaps even more despicable. She came from a low caste family and her attackers were of high caste. The authorities turned their backs on her – she was left outside the police station in the scorching sun, barely conscious, on a concrete slab. Doctors at the hospital where she was eventually taken were mostly Muslim, a group particularly targeted and fearful by Adityanath. They refused to take a rape test when they heard which caste his attackers were, as it was that of the chief minister and a large part of his supporters, unless the police register the complaint for rape. Adityanah is not accused of orchestrating either of the attacks, but his office has been accused of being an accomplice in the cover-up in the Manisha case. (His lawyer said there had been “a conspiracy to defame the government. Yogi Adityanath would never protect an author.”)
Manisha endured many other horrors and injustices before she died of her injuries. Her family suffered even more when the police cremated her body without allowing them to see her or perform Hindu funeral rites, then spread the story that it was an “honor killing”.
India’s rape scandal is an hour that unapologetically exposes the scale of the struggle women – and the men who care about them – have before them. This shows how little women matter to the men in power and – although we can argue about the degree – to those elsewhere in the social order. What is perhaps most shocking is that despite the horror of these stories, their outlines are familiar to women in all countries. The difference of the rape scandal in India is its prevalence, but not its gender. So where do we go from here? Because there isn’t a piece of it that’s nice.