Feb. 1: P.J. Kurien, the deputy chairperson of the Rajya Sabha, appeared in a spot of bother today with the Suryanelli victim seeking his prosecution in her alleged gang rape.
The senior Congress leader has not been named in the FIR or the chargesheet in the 1996 case, but under CrPC Section 319 a person can be tried afresh on the basis of fresh evidence or other materials.
Yesterday, the Supreme Court had set aside the acquittal of all 36 accused in the case, holding that Kerala High Court had failed to properly appreciate the evidence produced by the prosecution and had instead questioned the conduct of the victim.
The victim was allegedly abducted by a bus conductor who raped her and passed her on to 35 others, who violated her over 40 days in 1996.
In a new turn to the case, the victim has written a “confidential letter” to Ruksana Chaudhary, her Supreme Court advocate, seeking legal steps to prosecute Kurien.
Sources close to Chaudhary confirmed that the letter, dated January 29, was received in her Delhi office this evening. “We are in the process of examining the various legal angles for the plea to prosecute Kurien. If there is any material, we would definitely seek his prosecution,” a source said.
Although Kurien’s name does not figure in the Suryanelli FIR or the chargesheet, the victim and her father are said to have identified him as one of the tormentors in newspapers. But for some reason, his name was never pressed during the trial, sources said.
Speaking to a Malayalam TV channel today, the victim said she stood by her previous statement given to a lower court in which she had named Kurien among those who had sexually abused her in 1996.
Kurien’s name had hit the headlines in the case in 1996 when the girl first claimed she was sexually abused by him. He was then a minister in the Narasimha Rao cabinet. According to the girl, she initially knew him only as “baji”, but identified that it was Kurien after seeing his photo in a Malayalam daily on March 26, 1996.
A series of investigations followed, but none could link him to the crime. Although summoned by a magistrate’s court based on the victim’s private complaint, Kurien was discharged by Kerala High Court in April 2007 and ratified by the Supreme Court in November the same year.
The case that shook the A.K. Antony-led Congress government, which was in power in 1996, had since been lying dormant. But the Supreme Court’s order yesterday has again brought it back into the media glare.
It also has emerged that in her letter to her lawyer in New Delhi, the girl has sought to know if it was possible to seek a review of the 2007 Supreme Court order upholding Kurien’s discharge in the case.
The girl’s mother, a retired nurse, today claimed that the probes in the case were not fair and that the girl was not given an opportunity to identify Kurien.
Kurien reacted cautiously. “Governments under both the Left Democratic Front and the United Democratic Front had conducted probes against me based on the girl's complaint. You (the media) should read the probe reports and the court orders and come to your own conclusion. Show justice to truth. I have nothing else to say,” he told TV reporters on the sidelines of an event in Kerala.
The furore, however, showed no signs of dying down with then IG Siby Mathews, who was one of the probe officers, insisting that the leader was clean. He claimed that special public prosecutor (late) Janardana Kurup had pressed him to include Kurien’s name in the chargesheet but he did not succumb.
Mathews’s statement followed news reports quoting Kurup’s biography in which he claimed that the officer had created alibis to save Kurien in the case.
As the noise got louder, Opposition parties joined the clamour. Opposition leader V.S. Achuthanandan requested the court to urgently look into the matter while the BJP demanded that Kurien step down from his official position and face trial.
According to police, the girl, then a Class IX student, was gang raped over 40 days between January 16 and February 26, 1996. She was allegedly lured away from home by her lover, a bus conductor named Raju. Raju “duped”' her and passed her on to Dharmarajan, an advocate who raped her and then took her to different places where he presented her to various people.
It was during one of these days that she was brought to a guest house in Kuily panchayat on February 15. On February 19, she alleged, a stout man in his fifties, whom she could identify only as “baji”, came to the guest house and raped her twice, ignoring pleas to save her.
According to the girl’s mother, her daughter saw Kurien’s photo in a Malayalam daily in March 1996 and realised that it was the same “baji” who had abused her.
The girl then wrote a letter to then chief minister Antony, seeking action in the case. A police probe failed to find any evidence linking Kurien to the scandal.