The National Commission for Women on Wednesday issued a notice to Bharatiya Janata Party leader Ranjeet Srivastava, who maligned the character of the Hathras complainant by suggesting she had an affair with the accused. The women’s panel asked the BJP leader to appear before it on October 26.

In a video doing rounds on social media, Srivastava, a saffron party leader from Barabanki in Uttar Pradesh, claimed the four men from the upper-caste Thakur community who raped and brutally tortured the Dalit woman were innocent. He also called the 19-year-old Dalit woman as “awaara” or wayward.

“I can say with guarantee these boys are innocent,” he said, according to India Today. “If they are not released in time, they will keep facing mental harassment. Who will return their lost youth? Will the government give them compensation?”

Srivastava claimed the woman was having an affair with the one of the accused and had herself called him to the millet field where she was found on September 14. “This news is already out on social media and news channels,” he said. “She must have gotten caught.”

The BJP leader also questioned why “such women” are found dead in specific spots, implying that the woman was killed by her family because they discovered the affair. “Such girls are found dead in only some places,” he said. “They will be found dead in sugarcane, corn and millet fields or in bushes, gutters or forests. Why are they never found dead in paddy or wheat fields?”

Besides this, the Barabanki leader, who has over 44 criminal cases against him, also falsely claimed that the woman’s family raised allegations of rape only after Congress leaders visited them. He added that the four accused should be released until a chargesheet is filed in the case.

Taking note of the BJP leader’s comments, National Commission for Women chairperson Rekha Sharma said Srivastava is not “fit to be called the leader of any party”. “He is showing his primitive and sick mindset and I am going to send a notice to him,” she tweeted.

This is not the first time leaders of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party have claimed that the accused in the gangrape case are innocent and made insensitive remarks about the complainant’s character.

On October 4, Bharatiya Janata Party MLA Surender Singh suggested that rape can be averted if women are raised with “sanskar”, or good values, and not with good governance. “Such incidents can be stopped only with sanskar [culture and values] and not with shashan [governance] or talwar [sword],” Singh had said. “The government’s job is to protect the people but it is also the responsibility of parents to teach children polite behaviour and manners.”

On the same day, a former BJP MLA Rajveer Pahalwan called a meeting of upper caste members at his home in Hathras to support the accused. During the meeting on Sunday, Pahalwan claimed the four accused were not guilty. He added that the Central Bureau of Investigation inquiry will “reveal the truth about the incident”.

The National Commission for Women has also issued notices to Bharatiya Janata Party Information Technology cell head Amit Malviya, actor Swara Bhasker and Congress leader Digivijaya Singh for allegedly revealing the identity of the woman. Malviya had tweeted a video on October 2, in which the woman was heard saying that she had been strangled as she resisted her perpetrators. She was lying on the ground and her face was visible. Malviya had tweeted the video of the woman in an attempt to claim she had not been raped.

The Adityanath led government in Uttar Pradesh has also ruled out that the woman was raped, citing a forensic report that said there were no traces of sperm in samples taken from the woman. But the chief medical officer at Jawaharlal Nehru Medical College – where the woman was first admitted – had negated this, saying the report “holds no value” as it relied on samples taken 11 days after the crime was committed. Experts have also pointed out that since the samples for the test were collected many days after the crime was committed, sperm would not be present.

After the woman died on September 29, the police had forcibly cremated her body in the middle of the night allegedly without the family’s consent. They then proceeded to fortify the village with hundreds of security personnel and imposed a ban on large gatherings. The sequence of events around the crime and the hasty cremation by authorities have raised doubts whether this was done to suppress medical evidence of sexual assault.