Thiruvananthapuram: With six full-fledged 24X7 news channels and four other channels that beam news for long spells each day, the most sought-after topic these days on TV in Kerala is the infamous Suryanelli sex case.
TV discussions have been heated, ever since the apex court ordered a re-trial of the case Jan 31, setting aside the acquittal in 2005 by the Kerala High Court of all but one of the 35 accused.
The pitch of the discussions reached a crescendo when the name of Rajya Sabha Deputy Chairman P.J. Kurien surfaced in reports after the victim and her parents alleged that Kurien was let off because he was a powerful Congressman, and a minister of state in the central government at the time when the Kerala High Court pronounced its judgment.
TV news channels have teams of staff members now constantly present near the residence of the victim near Kottayam. The victim and her parents frequently feature in TV debates on the issue.
"Yes, yes, Kurien exploited me. Despite the fact that I brought the matter to the notice of the police probe team, Kurien was not included in the list of accused. I don't want to see him again. I wish to see him in court," the victim stated on TV, her face masked.
The Suryanelli case is named after the place where the victim hailed from, in the state's Idukki district.
The crime occurred January 1996 when the then 16-year-old was threatened, abducted, abused by a bus conductor, and brutally raped and treated as a pleasure object for a period of 45 days by 42 men.
Kerala Chief Minister Oommen Chandy Saturday urged the media to refrain from linking Kurien to the Suryanelli sex scandal, saying he had been "exonerated by two previous state governments and the Supreme Court" from the charges.
The victim's father, in a televised response to the chief minister's statement, said he would prefer to die rather than hear such a thing from Chandy.
Kurien, who was in the state, had so far refrained from speaking on TV.
But Saturday night, in lengthy interviews to TV channels, he broke his silence: "Believe me, I have never ever seen this girl in all my life. I have no clue why she is saying this again and again. When my name first appeared in this case, I did two things -- I filed a defamation case against the then government (while E.K. Nayanar was chief minister). I won that case, but I did not go ahead with it because Nayanar had passed away by then.
"The second thing I did was to seek legal recourse. The apex court exonerated me after dismissing all the arguments against me. What more should I do," a peeved Kurien said.
Jumping into the fray, leader of opposition in the state assembly V.S. Achuthanandan has demanded that Kurien step down, in the wake of the accusation. Achuthanandan also slammed Siby Mathews, the then high-ranking police official who investigated the case, saying he was "playing a double role" in the case.
Incidentally, Achuthanandan, as chief minister in 2011, appointed Mathews as the state's Chief Information Officer.
The victim Saturday evening faxed a letter to Chandy, requesting him to order a fresh probe into the case.
"We will now seek legal advice from the advocate general and the director general of prosecution on this aspect and then a decision would be taken," said State Home Minister Thiruvanchoor Radhakrishnan to reporters at Kottayam Sunday.
The issue is bound to reverberate during the budget session of the Kerala assembly, beginning Monday.