WHEN 17-year-old Jaya went for a job interview with a powerful politician, she was dragged into his bedroom, stripped and raped.
But the terrifying ordeal, at the hands of state minister Kuldeep Sengar in the Indian province of Uttar Pradesh, was just the beginning of her nightmare.
A few days later she was kidnapped by cronies of her attacker and taken to a house where she was gang-raped for over a week.
Even after she escaped, police refused to register the crime and her family were subjected to a campaign of intimidation which would result in the death of her father, two aunts and a lawyer.
The shocking cover-up is highlighted in a new documentary, India’s Rape Crisis, which airs tonight on Channel 4
The investigation, led by award-winning journalist Ramita Navai focuses on the authorities’ attempted cover-up of Jaya’s rape and the tragic story of Manisha Valmiki, who died from injuries sustained, she claimed, during a gang rape.
But these two tragic women are far from alone in India, where a rape is reported every 15 minutes and it’s estimated that 90 percent of attacks go unreported.
Shockingly, there are currently 76 active politicians who have been accused of crimes against women, including nine accused of rape - despite prime minister Narenda Modi’s pledge of zero tolerance for sexual assault in 2014.
“Jaya was a teenage girl who was trying to fight back and get justice but at every turn there was a horrendous twist in her story,” Ramita tells The Sun.
“It's not often that humans like her come along, at such a young age, in a country where rape is taboo - where if you get raped, you're shunned and ostracised and unlikely to get married.
“She had such a strength of character, at such a young age. Jaya’s bravery is extraordinary.”
Raped by neighbour then drugged and raped again
In testimony given to a court, two years after her attack, Jaya explains she was 17 when she was taken to the house of neighbour Kuldeep Sengar, on June 4, 2017, in the hope of getting a job.
Sengar was a powerful businessman and an elected Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA), the ruling council of an Indian state.
“Sengar got my hand and dragged me towards his room," she says.
“He pushed me on the bed, he stripped off my clothes and he raped me. He wiped my tears and told me he would get me a good job.”
Days later, Jaya was kidnapped by a group of men, bundled into a van and taken to the town of Kampur where she says she was imprisoned in a house.
“The men took turns to rape me,” she says. “I recognised two of them as Sengar’s men. They kept me on sedatives. Once I even tried to flee but I was caught and sedated again.”
After eight days, police found her alone in the house but, when she named her attackers and accused Sengar of rape, they refused to file a report and warned her to stay silent.
“The men took turns to rape me. I recognised two of them as Sengar’s men.Jaya
For two months, she repeated her allegations to as many officers as she could, but each time they refused to lodge her complaint.
Frustrated, she turned to the Chief Minister of the province, Yogi Adityanath - a powerful figure in the ruling party, the BJP, and tipped to be the next Indian PM. Again, she was told to go away.
In a chilling phone call, recorded by Jaya’s uncle, Sengar is heard pressuring the family to drop the accusations.
“Tell everyone, whatever happened is done. Just stop them and call it off,” he says.
But Jaya refused to back down and, in April 2018, her father Surendra was ambushed by a group of men led by Sengar’s brother Atul Singh.
In a video shown on the documentary, he is seen with a bloodied nose and open wounds across his back as he explains: “They kept beating me, and the police did nothing. They beat me until I was unconscious.”
When he reported the attack, the police arrested him and falsely charged him with possession of a firearm.
Shocking footage shows officers taking his fingerprints to authenticate a false confession as he slips into unconsciousness. He died three days later.
Phone records showed Sengar spoke to police 10 times during those three days.
Fireball suicide attempt
But far from being silenced,the attack on her beloved dad made Jaya more determined to be heard.
She organised a protest outside the home of Yogi Adityanath where she poured kerosene over herself and set fire to it.
Security forces put the flames out with blankets but she told the gathering media: “In order to be heard, I’ll kill myself.”
Journalist Aishwarya S. Iyer tells the documentary: “She wanted someone to listen, someone to care, someone to register her complaint. That’s when we all woke up.”
Finally, after six months of silence, there was a national outcry over the apparent cover-up of the scandal.
Narendra Modi called the incident “shameful for any society” and ordered an investigation by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI). Sengar was arrested and charged with rape and homicide.
Aunts and lawyer killed in fatal 'accident'
But Jaya’s trauma was not over yet. Her uncle, a key witness, was suddenly jailed over a dormant 20 year case and, as she travelled to see him with two aunts and her lawyer, on July 28, 2019, their car was rammed by a truck with blacked out number plates.
Jaya, who was critically injured, was the only survivor. Sengar denied involvement but, as the security team assigned to protect her were absent and witnesses say the truck lay in wait for the car, many believe this was no accident.
“I think the turning point for Jaya was losing her father, who she adored,” says Ramita.
“After that she thought ‘I've got nothing to lose now’ but, of course, she did keep losing, with both aunts and her lawyer killed in suspicious circumstances.
“She spent months in hospital on a ventilator and nearly died.”
The trial was moved to Delhi and a makeshift court set up around Jaya’s hospital bed so she could still give evidence.
Sengar was sentenced to life imprisonment for rape and 10 years for the murder of her father, although no evidence was found of his involvement in the car accident.
Jaya remains under police guard and Sengar has been given permission to appeal.
Dying gang rape victim left on concrete slab
Even as the country was processing Jaya’s case, the story of another rape and cover up emerged in September 2020.
Manisha Valmiki was found by her mother in a field, semi conscious, badly hurt and naked from the waist down, near the village of Hathras, in Uttar Pradesh. She claimed she was gang raped by four men who strangled her when she resisted.
Her family took her by motorbike to the police but instead of helping the 19-year-old - who was suffering from paralysing spinal injuries - they laid her on a concrete slab outside and questioned her.
Footage aired in the documentary, shows Manisha looking bruised and battered with livid red marks around her neck, struggling to speak her tongue had been slashed in the attack.
But she is heard telling the police she was strangled because she didn’t want her attacker to “force himself on me.”
Incredibly, police refused to register the crime and didn’t even call an ambulance for the dying woman.
Later, at the hospital, Manisha repeated her allegation and named her attackers.
But, despite the video going viral, and whipping up a media storm, police claimed the accusation of rape came a week after she was attacked.
Crucially, doctors at the hospital said they were too frightened to carry out a rape examination because police had not recorded the incident as rape.
It was only when the video attracted international attention that the police superintendent registered the gang rape and all four suspects were arrested.
The medical examination then took place - eight days after the attack - and unsurprisingly found no semen. Ramita says this is a common problem.
“The cover ups start with the police not recording rape in the first report,” she says.
“If the police don't record the rape, there is no investigation. By the time people scream and shout about it and the police are scrutinised, it can be months or, in some cases, over a year so all the evidence is lost, witnesses have disappeared.
“The cover ups go all the way up to a district magistrate and to state level politicians.”
Rape of lower castes 'normal'
Manisha’s case was politically charged because the victim was a Dalit, the lowest caste in India's brutal hierarchy and the attackers were from a upper caste, the power base of the BJP.
On average 10 Dalit women were raped every day in India last year, according to official figures, and Uttar Pradesh has the highest instances of violence against women of any state.
“When we travelled through Uttar Pradesh villagers told us it's ‘normal’, that rapes happen every week," says Ramita.
“Upper caste men will walk across to the lower caste part of the village and just grab a woman and rape her in the field.”
In the midst of widespread protests, with civil rights groups marching on the hospital, doctors decided to transfer Manisha to a top Delhi hospital for life-saving treatment.
Instead, after a four hour drive with no medical supplies and no doctor on board, police delivered her to an inferior hospital where she passed away on September 29, two weeks after the attack.
The official postmortem said Manisha died from stangulation and a fractured spine but made no mention of sexual assault and her family demanded an independent autopsy.
But, in a final cruel blow, police drove the body back to her village in the dead of night and told the family she had to be cremated instantly.
“She’s my daughter. How can you be so inhumane?” Manisha’s mother wailed, as she threw herself on the truck and begs them to allow her daughter home for her last rites.
Ignoring her heartrending pleas, the officers trapped the family in their home and cremated Manisha on a swiftly built fire with just one elderly neighbour looking on.
Four men are now awaiting trial after an investigation by the CBI but their lawyer, A.P. Singh claims the shocking video outside the police station was staged and that the family killed Manisha.
“Women lie and file cases,” he says. “There was no rape. This was a case of honour killing.
"In the video she was directed. She was acting. This was a conspiracy to defile the government.”
'Government should be ashamed'
Despite Modi’s pledge to end violence against women, Ramita says rape cases are on the increase and that the government are using ancient sedition laws to silence journalists.
“Journalists were too scared to talk to us on camera, which was disappointing and depressing,” she says.
“But Indian journalists are really under fire. Over 400 Indians, mostly journalists and activists, have been charged with sedition for criticising the government. The majority have been since 2014, when Modi came to power.”
Now Ramita hopes the documentary will put pressure on the Modi government to fulfil promises to crack down on rape.
“We can't get let these powerful men get away with rape,” she says. “I want the government to act.
“I want the government to be publicly shamed that they have a system which allows the cover ups, that censors journalists and keeps these women down.”
Dispatches: India's Rape Crisis airs tonight at 10pm on Channel 4