A young student files a rape complaint against a powerful politician. He is not charged with rape, is booked under lesser charges and instead of being arrested, is allowed to spend days in hospital for alleged health problems.

The politician then files an extortion case against the young student. What happens to her should not surprise anyone familiar with law and order in Uttar Pradesh in recent years.

On Wednesday morning, a 23-year-old law student who has accused Chinmayanand, former union minister of state and three-time Bharatiya Janata Party MP, of raping and physically exploiting her was arrested in Shahjahanpur on charges of extortion. According to her family, the law student was arrested by a large police force that dragged her into a police van without even letting her wear her slippers.

Chinmayanand had filed the extortion case against her and three of her alleged friends in August, soon after she filed a rape complaint against him. On September 24, a Shahjahanpur court admitted her application for anticipatory bail, but did not grant her immediate relief. Instead, the court scheduled her case hearing for September 26, giving the Uttar Pradesh police a window to swoop in and arrest her.

Inspector general Naveen Arora, who heads the Special Investigation Team in charge of both the rape and extortion cases, has claimed that the SIT has enough evidence to show that the law student and her accomplices tried to extort Rs 5 crore from Chinmayanand. She has now been sent to judicial custody for 14 days, and her bail plea has been rejected.

Even though the complaints of rape and extortion are technically two separate cases, senior lawyers believe there are legitimate reasons to worry that the law student’s rape case may now be undermined by the extortion charges against her.

Power play

The main reason for this concern is the fact that Chinmayanand has had a starkly different experience with the police in the wake of the rape and physical exploitation allegations against him.

According to the student, 72-year-old Chinmayanand took advantage of her for a year after he helped her get admission in the law college run by him. He allegedly filmed her while she bathed in her hostel, and then used the video as a blackmailing tool to rape her and force her to give him massages at gunpoint. The law student managed to secretly capture videos of his exploitation which she later submitted to the police.

According to SIT chief Naveen Arora, Chinmayanand admitted to almost every allegation against him after he was shown the videos.

Despite this, the police did not act against Chinmayanand till September 20. When he was finally arrested, it was not on charges of rape, which carries a seven-year prison term extending to life. Instead, the police applied watered down charges of sexual intercourse by a person of authority, which carries a term of five to ten years.

Chinmayanand is now supposed to be in judicial custody for 14 days, but he was driven to a hospital in Shahjahanpur right after his arrest on September 20, after he complained of “uneasiness and weakness”. According to an NDTV report, Chinmayanand’s doctors claim his health is fine and his heart parameters are normal, but he is currently being kept “under observation”.

“There has been a dilution of the rape charges against Chinmayanand, there was a delay in his arrest and now he is in hospital, which is what happens to men in India before and after they arrested in cases like this,” said Vrinda Grover, a senior Supreme Court advocate. Given all of this, and the contrasting treatment meted out to the rape complainant when she was arrested, Grover believes the extortion case is very likely to undermine the rape case.

“Even though they are separate cases, the defence will take advantage of the extortion charges,” she said.

Chinmayanand being attended by a doctor at his residence in Shahjahanpur, Monday, September 16, 2019. Photo: PTI

‘Why should one case affect the other?’

Criminal lawyer Rebecca John emphasises that it is difficult to assess the impact of the extortion case against the law student without knowing details about the evidence that the police has against her. However, John believes that the optics of the whole case are not good.

“There was no need for the police to swoop in and arrest the woman in the extortion case – surely they could have waited for the court to hear her pre-arrest bail application,” said John. This, and the fact that Chinmayanand has not been properly arrested, reveal the power differentials at play.

According to Mumbai-based lawyer Mihir Desai, it is quite likely that Chinmayanand’s extortion allegations against the woman are fabricated, in a deliberate attempt to compromise her rape case. “At this point, the truthfulness of the allegations may not matter,” said Desai. Fighting a rape case can be draining and traumatic, and the woman will now also have to spend precious time, energy and resources to fight the extortion case in court. “This will obviously affect the sexual assault case, even if the extortion allegations are disproved.”

For Grover, the veracity of the extortion charges is immaterial. “My question is simply: can a woman who has been accused of extortion not be a victim of rape? Why should one case affect the other?”