In the last few years it has become a norm for key witnesses to go missing or be found dead, change statements overnight or turn hostile – it is no longer about a victim getting justice but about perpetrators getting away scot-free without being charged and punished. The guilty are protected and the victims are treated as outcasts. Sadly, it is the people from the economically weaker sections of society – the lower castes, the minorities, those from tribal and backward areas that are targeted the most.

Let’s rewind to the last 24 hours in Uttar Pradesh: the young Unnao rape victim has been seriously injured in a road accident…her two aunts are dead and her lawyer admitted into a hospital with injuries. It has also been reported that a retired army captain has been lynched by a mob in Amethi and a teenager set ablaze in Chandauli for not chanting ‘Jai Shri Ram’… The Chief Minister of course has always looked the other way at such times while continuing to be the PM’s blue-eyed boy.

Has anyone given a thought to what these families must be going through – what must be churning in the rape victims’ mind in her quest for justice? Rape cases in India where the rich and the mighty are involved are hellish battles and the beginnings of nightmares as in such cases, the police, usually look the other way, tamper with evidence and bully the victims all on the behest of the one wielding power. Most often, the victims are left dealing with a host of false charges. Victims go bankrupt trying to fight for their rights and working to salvage what little is left of their reputation and sanity.

The incompetence, bias and insensitivity shown to rape victims in our country is deplorable. The Unnao case is a shocking revelation of the mistreatment rape victims are sometimes subjected to by the very people who should be seeking justice for them. It is time we collectively work towards exposing how our system is full of loopholes – how the guilty go scot-free and the victims are hounded for life. The Unnao victim has been bravely and persistently facing all her ordeals but this ‘accident’ has been a cruel blow.

At this juncture, all the events leading up to the Unnao victim’s accident seem more movie like than real. But this is not a drama unfolding on Netflix but one that is happening right before us in everyday life. We have a situation where the politicians are calling the shots and the criminals are the ones controlling the law and order situation… the police alas seem to be just puppets with their strings being pulled by the baddies while the victims suffer. This is how the story unfolds: The Unnao rape survivor whose complaint sent a BJP MLA to jail was on her way to meet an Uncle who is lodged in a jail in Uttar Pradesh's Rae Bareli district when a speeding truck crushed the car she was travelling in along with her relatives and lawyer. The truck, according to reports, was driving recklessly on the wrong side of the road and had its nameplate smeared with black paint. This occurred on NH-31 near Ataura outpost under Gurbakshganj police station on Sunday afternoon.

The rape survivor and her lawyer, who was driving the car, were both critically injured while the girl's relatives succumbed to their injuries. The accident reeks of a conspiracy to get rid of the girl as she is the sole witness in the rape case. This ‘accident’ fits right into a pattern of similar incidents over the years where victims have been eliminated or conveniently removed – pardon my play on words.

The survivor, then a teenager, brought allegations of rape against BJP MLA Kuldeep Singh Sengar of Bangarmau constituency in Unnao in 2017. The girl, then a minor, had alleged that Sengar had raped her at his residence in the pretext of providing her a job. It had then taken a year for the girl and her family to pressurise the police in naming the influential BJP leader in the rape case. At one stage, the survivor had attempted self-immolation before chief minister Yogi Adityanath's residence on 8 April, 2018, to draw attention against 'police inaction'.

The very next day the survivor's father, framed in a false case, was reportedly thrashed by Sengar's brother and his accomplices in police custody, leading to his death. A CBI investigation into the incident later found that Sengar and his partners tried to implicate members of the rape victim's family in false cases ‘to pressure her to drop the case’. The CBI also charged three police officers, including the station officer of Makhi police station, of being part of the conspiracy. Shortly after the CBI had filed a charge sheet against Sengar, Mohammad Yunus, a key witness in the case, died under mysterious circumstances. Yunus was hurriedly buried without a post-mortem getting done.

The evil plot unfolding before our eyes needs no great minds to understand it. Bumping off key witnesses in a bid to release the accused have become the norm. What makes the case appear even repugnant is the fact that even though a court had last year ordered the administration to provide the rape survivor with a security cover, the court-designated security personnel were absent when the girl and her relatives met with the accident. It is difficult to swallow scenarios where key witnesses in a rape case are dying under mysterious circumstances or unfortunate accidents.

Let’s not forget how on July 17, 10 people, including three women, were killed and 28 injured when Yagya Dutt, a village head, and his supporters opened fire on a group of tribal farmers in Ubha village of Sonbhadra district in Uttar Pradesh. The Sonbhadra firing is one of the bloodiest clashes over land ownership in recent years in Uttar Pradesh. Very recently, a BJP minister in Jharkhand was seen asking a Muslim MLA to chant 'Jai Shri Ram'. Last month, a young Muslim man Tabrez Ansari was tied to a pole and beaten up for several hours by a mob in Jharkhand's Saraikela-Kharsawan district after he was allegedly caught stealing a motorcycle. He died a few days later. His tormentors were alleged to have forced him to chant 'Jai Shri Ram' and 'Jai Hanuman'.

The tainted MLA wields so much political influence that a newly elected MP visited him in jail and paid obeisance. It is also pertinent to remember that despite the swirling allegations of rape and murder against him, the BJP has not yet expelled Sengar from the party – the fear of him turning into a foe perhaps?

To move ahead of the dark times we live in, the government will have to get rid of this diseased political culture that is rampant in India. Such unfortunate incidents surely make people like us wonder if we will ever be able to fight the rot in our system. Will there ever be a justice system that is unbiased and fair? The unfolding of the Unnao victim’s life screams a harsh reality: If you complain and take on the powerful… You will suffer!! The mighty have the power to do what the hell they please – and this goes with an important rider – you can not only get away with it – you can also go unpunished.

All these incidents have set off massive public outrage and protests but isn’t it time the guilty were punished through a fair and just system in place? The fighting spirit of this brave 17 year old must be saluted.