Suryanelli rape case takes another crucial turn

The Suryanelli rape case took yet another turn on Monday morning with Dharmarajan, the key and only person in the scandal who was convicted in the case, saying that he had taken Congress leader PJ Kurien to the Kumili guest house where the girl was kept.

Rajyasabha deputy chairman PJ Kurien was not named in the case after he got a leave from a Supreme Court bench comprising Chief Justice K G Balakrishnan and Justice R V Raveendran in 2007.

“If somebody would come to court after three years what will be the evidence left?” the Bench had asked the Kerala government, while dismissing the complaint. “It is a private complaint and what is your (State’s) role,” it also asked.

The victim was a 16-year-old girl who complained that several persons, including Kurien, had raped her in February 1996. The complaint alleged that Kurien had raped her at the Kumily guesthouse in Idukki district.

Today, Dharmarajan, who was convicted for his role in trafficking the girl from one place to another and is currently on the run, said in an interview with the Mathrubhoomi TV channel that he had personally taken PJ Kurien to the Kumili guest house in his ambassador car.

“I will swear on my dead father that PJ Kurien was there. I took him to the guest house,” Dharmarajan told the channel in an interview that has further raised the stakes in an already high-stakes political battle in the state.

Congress chief minister Oommen Chandy, Union Defence minister AK Antony, BJP central leadership and many other leaders have been defending Kurien over the past several days, saying that a re-investigation cannot be ordered into the case. In 2007, Kurien’s defence in the Supreme Court was handled by BJP’s leader in the Rajya Sabha Arun Jaitley, who is also an advocate.

Nair Service Society (NSS) general secretary Sukumaran Nair and a state secretary of the BJP in Kerala, KS Rajan, are among those who have provided alibis to Kurien in support of his contention that he was not in Kumili at the disputed time. Kurien also claimed that he was at the house of a friend, Idikula, at the time.

However, except for Sukumaran Nair, the other two have already come forward to deny Kurien’s version in the last few days.

While Rajan said that his statement was misrecorded by the chief investigating officer in the case, Sibi Mathews, another BJP colleague of his, Dileep Kumar Palasserril, released a recorded conversation in which a voice allegedly belonging to Charley Abraham, the president of the Umayattinkara service cooperative bank, seemingly admits that he was behind bringing K S Rajan, former district president of BJP, to support Kurien in the case.

“Charley thought that since Rajan is part of the BJP, his statement would add more strength to the case. However, when Kurien offered money for this, Rajan refused to accept the offer,” Palasserril told media last week, releasing the recorded conversation. Charley has denied that the voice was his.

Another alibi, the family of Kurien’s friend Idikula, with whom he claimed to have spent the evening, also denied that he was there till 8 pm as he claimed. The wife of late Idikula said Kurien came in at about 4 pm and left in half an hour to 45 minutes.

Today’s statement by Dharmarajan also puts the chief investigating officer, Sibi Mathews, in further inconvenience. His former deputy, KK Joshua, has already told the media that he felt that Mathews did not do a fair investigation into Kurien’s role. Among the shortcomings cited in the investigation was that Kurien was perhaps the only person among the 42 accused who was not required to line up for an investigation parade by Mathews.

The then chief minister of Kerala, VS Achuthanandan, has already called Mathews’s role in the investigation as suspect.

Dharmarajan said he had confessed the name of PJ Kurien in the case.

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.

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.

Though convicted by the trial court, the Kerala High Court let off all but 1 of the 40 accused in the case, pointing to the possibility that the case was one of prostitution and not rape.

Setting aside the judgment of the single Judge, the High Court had observed – “Going by the case of the prosecution, many of the accused went to her only assuming that she is a prosotitute. Going to a prostitute is improper and immoral. It offends the sense of righteousness of the enlightened members of the polity. But the criminal court is not pronouncing on morality but culpability. When most of them entered her room or she entered their room, the male indictees were guilty only of the immorality of going to a woman, who they thought was a prostitute. It becomes rape only when she conveyed her unwillingness within the closed room. Her omnibus statement that to all who approached her inside the closed room she had verbally conveyed and signified her absence of consent cannot be readily swallowed considering the anterior, immediate and subsequent conduct of hers. At any rate, we are persuaded to favourably consider the plea for benefit of doubt.”