Kerala: In the eye of a storm over the Suryanelli rape case that has returned to haunt him, Rajya Sabha Deputy Chairman P J Kurien on Wednesday rejected demands for his resignation saying the controversy is a conspiracy by his political adversaries.
Brushing aside the new twists and turns in the case, he said "there is nothing new in the so-called revelations. It is the same allegations, which the courts had then inquired into and found it humanly impossible."
At the AICC briefing, party spokesperson P C Chacko, however, parried questions on whether he stood by his earlier remarks that the party will take a decision on the demand for removal of Kurien from the particular post before the Budget Session of Parliament.
As reporters persisted, Chacko, a senior leader from Kerala, considered to be not on very good terms with Kurien, said "what I have said in Kerala is related to Kerala. Our party position has been explained by my colleague Sandip Dikshit. It has been very clearly spelt out by him."
Distancing from Chacko's earlier remarks, Dikshit, who spoke from the AICC podium had on Monday said, "whatever Chacko has said is his personal opinion".
Initially, Chacko today chose not to answer any question about Kurien. Instead, he focused on the issue of BJP's attack on the government over the VVIP chopper deal every time when a question on the issue was put to him.
Later he, however, said "it (re-investigation into the case) is a matter to be dealt with basically by the Kerala government...Party's role comes only after that. First it has to be dealt by the state government".
Nudged further, he, however, said," I stand by Dikshit's statement. That is the official statement of the party".
Speaking separately, Kurien replied in the negative about the possibility of his resigning.
"There is no need for that. I have been cleared unequivocally by all courts, by the due process of law. Can anybody resign because some convict is making allegations," he said.
Kurien's wife rubbishes rape charge against him
Amid growing clamour for resignation of Rajya Sabha Deputy Chairman PJ Kurien in the Suryanelli gangrape case, his wife has rubbished the allegations against him and said those hurling "malicious charges" never bothered to appreciate sentiments of her family.
Susan Kurien, a retired high school teacher, said in a statement that her husband had reached home and they had supper together on the day he was alleged to have abused the victim in a guest house at distant Kumali. "I am sure that the allegations against my husband are baseless. Myself and my two daughters firmly believe that the truth prevail in this matter," Susan said.
She said her family was deeply pained that Kurien was being haunted through media (by those levelling charges) after a span of 17 years, raising the same allegations which were found baseless by repeated investigations and judicial scrutiny. "Those who are fighting for women's right should not forget the fact that Prof Kurien too has a family", she said.
Kurien has all along rejected the charge and opposition's demand for his resignation, saying it was a matter which had already been cleared by the Supreme Court. The girl from Suryanelli in Idukki district was abducted in January 1996 and transported from place to place across Kerala and sexually exploited by different persons.
The victim had sent a letter to the Supreme Court last week, seeking a review of the apex court's order quashing all charges against Kurien.
Kerala government seeks Left opinion on Suryanelli case
Faced with relentless demands from the Left opposition to reopen the 17-year-old Suryanelli sex case, the Kerala government has sought the opinion of the Left on how to proceed in the matter.
On Tuesday, Rajya Sabha Deputy Chairman P.J. Kurien, also a senior Congressman from the state, who has been named in the case both by the family of the victim and the sole convict in the case, wrote to Congress president Sonia Gandhi citing court verdicts that had exonerated him.
Replying to the opposition's demand to reopen the case, Chief Minister Oommen Chandy said the government will place the three legal opinions that the government got on this issue pn the table of the house.
"We request you to please take possession of the three legal opinions that we received, which clearly state that it is no longer possible to reopen this case and order a fresh investigation. Please read the legal opinions, give it to your legal experts, and see what further steps can be taken," Chandy said.
P. Sreeramakrishnan, the CPI-M legislator who moved the third motion seeking a discussion in the house on the Suryanelli sex case and the involvement of Kurien, alleged that the Chandy government was playing tricks, with the sole intention of saving Kurien from disgrace.
"You have now produced a legal opinion from the director general of prosecution, who is your own party member. This is just humbug," Sreeramakrishnan said.
State Home Minister Thiruvanchoor Radhakrishnan, replying to Sreeramakrishnan, said that apart from the opinion of Director-General of Prosecutions T. Asif Ali, who held that there was no need for a fresh probe, the government had also received the advice of the state law secretary.
"We then got a third opinion from Justice (retired) Padmanabhan Nair, who appeared for the state in the apex court last month in this case. He too has concluded that it is not possible to go through a fresh probe."
Radhakrishnan recalled that in 2005, K.P. Viswanathan, then the state's forest minister, had resigned after Justice Nair made remarks in the high court linking him to the sandalwood mafia.
"You should note that subsequently Viswanathan was exonerated by the apex court. So Justice Nair's opinion in the Suryanelli case cannot be seen as partial to the ruling dispensation. A state government can only proceed in accordance with law, and we are doing just that," Radhakrishnan said.
The state home minister reminded the Left opposition that they were free to approach the court in the matter.
The case against P.J. Kurien
With the resurfacing of the Suryanelli sex scandal case, which has rocked Kerala off and on since 1996, Rajya Sabha Deputy Chairman P.J. Kurien has come under a cloud of suspicion again.
The case arose out of the abduction and serial rape of a 16-year-old schoolgirl of Suryanelli in Kerala by 42 men over 41 days in January-February 1996. One after another three police teams investigated the case and none of them named Kurien as an accused.
The government appointed a special prosecutor and set up a special court to render speedy justice. In September 2000, the fast-track sessions court sentenced 35 accused to various terms of rigorous imprisonment. One accused, Dharmarajan, an advocate, who had allegedly taken the captive girl to several places in Kerala and Tamil Nadu and presented her to others, was absconding at the time. He was arrested, tried and given a long jail term two years later.
In 2005, the high court acquitted all, including Dharmarajan, of the rape charge, holding the girl had completed 16 years, which was the age of consent, and she was not an unwilling partner. It, however, upheld Dharmarajan's conviction on a charge of sex trade and gave him a jail term of only five years.
The state's appeal against the high court verdict lay unattended in the Supreme Court for more than seven years until a women's organisation drew attention to it in the wake of the national outrage over the Delhi gang-rape.
On taking it up, the apex court expressed shock over the high court verdict, quashed it and sent the case back to it for fresh determination within six months.
All the accused in the case were traced by the investigators on the basis of information given by the girl after the abductors freed her. While the investigation was on, she saw a picture of Kurien, then a minister of state in the central government, in a newspaper and told police that he was among her tormentors. Inquiries showed that he was in Kerala for a few days and had moved about without security personnel on one day.
Kurien told the investigators he did not use the services of security personnel on that day since he had no official engagements. Witnesses cited by him said they met him at Thiruvalla and Changanacherry. That meant he could not have been at Kumali, where the girl alleged he had raped her. The investigators were satisfied with his alibi.
Since the police did not cite Kurien as an accused, the girl filed a private complaint against him in a magistrate's court. After hearing the testimony of her witnesses, the magistrate issued summons to him. He then moved the high court and, failing to get a favourable verdict, approached the Supreme Court for quashing the magistrate's order.
The apex court asked him to go to the sessions court with a prayer for discharge. The sessions court rejected the prayer. Kurien then went to the high court, which granted his prayer.
The legal path Kurien chose raises some questions. In the criminal revision petition filed in the high court, he did not cite the girl, who was the complainant, as a respondent. The high court ruled in his favour without hearing her. The only respondent in the case was the State of Kerala, which had anyway decided not to prosecute him.
The witnesses who helped Kurien to establish his alibi were not produced in the magistrate's or in the sessions court. Therefore, the complainant's counsel could not cross-examine them.
Kurien's plea for discharge came up in the high court when the main Suryanelli case was virtually lost with the acquittal of all the accused charged with rape. He relied heavily upon the high court's finding that the girl's testimony could not be trusted. With the apex court quashing that high court verdict, its decision in his case stands on questionable ground.
In his television appearances Kurien said political opponents had been raking up the Suryanelli case against him at election time. He had raised this argument in the courts too, and it had passed muster there. However, this time the matter has come up not in the context of an election but in the context of the general awakening on the issue of women's security. Also, it has been brought up by the victim, who was a minor when she was subjected to sexual assault and is fighting for justice 17 years later.
Kurien's name was cleared by investigators and prosecutors both under the Congress-led UDF government and under the CPI-M-led LDF government. However, they was no unanimity among them.
One investigator has said the team leader was keen to save Kurien and did not pursue the evidence against him. Both the girl and Dharmarajan have said police asked them not to mention his name. It has come to light that identification parades were held for the others named by the girl but not for Kurien.
The special prosecutor appointed by the CPI-M-led government wanted Kurien to be prosecuted but the Director General of Prosecution, also appointed by that government, did not. The matter was settled in Kurien's favour at a meeting presided over by Chief Minister E.K. Nayanar, which suggests the decision was essentially political.
All witnesses who reinforced Kurien's alibi except G. Sukumaran Nair, general secretary of the Nair Service Society, have gone back on their statements to police. To make things worse, Dharmarajan has told a channel he took Kurien in his car to the guest house where the girl said he assaulted her.
Their revelations having knocked the bottom out of Kurien's alibi, he is under increasing pressure to step down from the post of deputy chairman and submit to a fresh probe.