Judge’s references to Suryanelli girl spark furore - Kerala veteran throws phrases like ‘child prostitution’ and ‘deviant’ to defend mass acquittals

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  • Published 11.02.13

Thiruvananthapuram, Feb. 10: A high court judge who was in the division bench that acquitted the accused in the Suryanelli sex slave case has ignited an uproar after purportedly “covert” footage showed him deriding the victim who was a schoolgirl when she was abducted.

The 1996 case had faded from public memory but had burst back into the headlines after a recent Supreme Court verdict that set aside the acquittals and asked the high court to take a fresh look. The case has acquired a national profile in the wake of the upheaval over the Delhi gang rape and because the girl had named Congress leader and Rajya Sabha deputy chairman P.J. Kurien.

The footage shows Justice K. Basant, a former judge of Kerala High Court, speaking to a reporter from a Malayalam news channel, Indiavision. Basant has not denied the content of the footage but has questioned the telecast, saying he had no knowledge that the conversation was being recorded.

The former judge, whose face is sometimes not visible on the footage, is heard telling the reporter: “There is ample evidence to show that she (the victim) was used for child prostitution. Child prostitution is no rape. It is immoral.…”

Basant then made some comments that appeared to question why the girl, who was held in captivity and allegedly raped for 40 days by 36 people, did not seek help since she had contact with the outside world. He also raised questions if she was under captivity at all.

“This girl is said to be under captivity. But she is taken to a doctor for sore throat. Look at the point of view of those captors. Would they ever take her to a doctor if (she was in forced captivity)...? All these questions were there,” Basant is heard saying on the footage.

The former judge, who is now among the empanelled lawyers representing the Congress-led UDF government, also referred to the girl as a “deviant”.

“Please read the judgment. It shows from the beginning itself, how deviant a girl she was. I’m not trying to blame her. Nobody talks about all that. She was paid money from home for her school fees, but she misused it. At what age? At 14 she did that. Then there were some ornaments that were given from her home. She pledged them for someone. So we said, ‘here is a girl who is not normal… who is deviant’. Then came a letter in which it was written ‘I’m going away’. That letter was not produced. It was produced in the second trial. Please read the judgment. All this is there in the judgment,” Justice Basant was heard telling the reporter.

To a question on the Supreme Court’s observation that it was shocked by the high court verdict acquitting all accused but one, the former judge replied: “Those who have not read the judgement would be shocked.”

Justice Basant and Justice K.A. Abdul Gaffoor had delivered the judgment in 2005.

Protests erupted across the state after the channel aired the clip with activists of the Left and the BJP hitting the streets and burning Basant’s effigy yesterday.

Addressing a seminar later in the day at Thalassery in north Kerala, Basant claimed that the clip was recorded without his knowledge and questioned media ethics in telecasting a “private conversation”. The former judge said he did not intend to insult the victim.

The former judge said he thought that the journalist had come for a discussion and not to beam it on the channel. “In the name of journalism, you should not resort to unethical practices. The credibility of journalism will be at stake if you resort to such tactics,” he said.

The channel, owned by a minister in the incumbent government, said the judge was aware that he was speaking to a reporter and the cameraperson did not hide his camera. Asked if the judge was aware that he was being recorded, the channel’s executive editor M.P. Basheer said he wasn’t sure about it.

A section of lawyers protested against Basant at the venue.

Kerala home minister Thiruvanchiyoor Radhakrishnan of the Congress said he did not agree with Basant’s views. V.S. Achuthanandan, the CPM veteran and leader of Opposition who had taken a tough stand against sex scandals when he was chief minister, said the former judge needed to be slapped in public.

Former Supreme Court judge V.R. Krishna Iyer today demanded a public apology from Basant.

Kurien, who was not among the 35 accused but whose name came up when the girl filed a private complaint later accusing him of involvement, has said he has already been cleared of the charges by the apex court.

Congress spokesperson P.C. Chacko said the party would formulate its stand on the demand for removal of Kurien as Rajya Sabha deputy chairman before the start of the budget session of Parliament on February 21.