Suryanelli rape case – ex-Judge’s opinion causes a furore

The Suryanelli rape case has again burst into the headlines in Kerala with a private news channel running video footage of a conversation with one of the judges in the High Court panel that let off all but one of the dozens of accused in the case.

Basant is shown as asking a reporter of the Indiavision news channel about child prostitution when she asked him if he believed that a 16 year old girl would sleep with 42 men out of her own desire.

“Child prostitution is not rape. It is immoral, but it is not rape,” Basant was shown as saying.

The Justice later said that he had not authorized the publication of his comments, which were made after the cameras were supposed to be turned off. “It was a private conversation and no permission was given to record it. This is unethical journalism,” new agencies quoted him as saying.

Justice Basant has a reputation for being among the fairest and most upright and honest justices who served in Kerala High Court.

According to the case, a 16-year-old girl was sexually harassed and assaulted continuously for 40 days by 42 men in 1996.

The girl from Suryanelli in Idukki district of Kerala in India was transported from place to place across Kerala.

The accused included some well-known and well-placed individuals including the Congress Party leader and deputy chairman of India’s upper house of Parliament Rajya Sabha, P J Kurien.

The girl was enticed, threatened, abducted and sexually exploited by a bus conductor on January 16, 1996. A popular Malayalam film, “Achan Urangatha Veedu” or “the home where the father cannot sleep”, has been made loosely on the basis of the case.

It is alleged that the girl was terrorized and threatened with dire consequences to gain her co-operation in the prostitution operation. However, the Kerala High Court had dismissed the case against the 42 men, raising doubts about the girl’s character, and questioning why she did not try to run away from her alleged captors.

Kurien has been supported by the Congress Party, the chief minister of Kerala and the Bharatiya Janata Party, though the local unit of the BJP has called for a re-investigation into the case.

CPIM’s leader in the Kerala Legislative Assembly, VS Achuthanandan has accused several people, including some in his own party, of colluding to save Kurien from the case.