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Suryanelli witnesses compound Kurien’s woes

Author: Sandhya Jain
Publication: Niticentral.com
Date: February 6, 2013
URL: http://www.niticentral.com/2013/02/suryanelli-witnesses-compound-kuriens-woes.html

In the new national mood of zero tolerance towards rape, and with the witnesses he forwarded to claim exoneration suddenly contradicting his claims on television channels in Kerala yesterday (February 5), Rajya Sabha Deputy Chairman PJ Kurien is unlikely to succeed in evading a fresh probe into his conduct and whereabouts on the day of the alleged assault on the Suryanelli victim. With the budget session slated to begin on February 21, it will be difficult for the Congress and the UPA Government to protect him further against opposition demands for his resignation.

The crux of the matter revolves around missing police records from 4 pm onwards on February 19, 1996, the day the alleged rape took place in the Kumily panchayat guest house. Being a Central Minister at the time, Kurien was entitled to a police escort and official car during his visit to the State, but there are no police logs to corroborate his claims regarding his whereabouts on that crucial evening.

Kurien himself claimed that he had finished his official appointments and as he had some personal work, he had dismissed the official car and police escort and visited friends on his own. The testimony provided by these friends had enabled him to clear the police probe, avoid being named as an accused in the case, and get himself exonerated by the Supreme Court.

This escape route is now coming unstuck. Annamma, wife of late PK Idikkula, informed the television channels that Kurien was her husband’s friend and had visited them in their Thiruvalla home that day, but he had come around 4 or 4.30 pm and left about 45 minutes later. This contradicts her late husband’s testimony 16 years ago that Kurien was at their home till around 8 pm. The lady said there were servants in the house at the time. She could not recall who accompanied Kurien.

In a second setback to Kurien, BJP leader KS Rajan, who in 1996 told the police that he had met Kurien at PK Idukkula’s house in Thiruvalla at 7 pm that day, retracted his statement and told a private television channel that he had met Kurien around 5 pm but had stated otherwise at the behest of a local Congress leader.

With Annamma and Rajan now insisting that Kurien was in Thiruvalla around 5 pm, his alibi that it was impossible for him to reach Kumily at the time of the alleged assault, falls flat.

To add to his woes, KK Joshua, one of the investigating officers in the original Special Investigation Team, has entered the fray, pointing out that the SIT chief Sibi Mathews gave Kurien a clean chit on the basis of ‘documentary evidence’ like the travel log maintained by his driver, details of police escort, and statements by his staff. But, Joshua charges, there was absolutely no documentary evidence to prove that Kurien did not travel to Kumily where the victim was kept captive and raped by several people. Kurien’s only alibi was NSS general secretary G Sukumaran Nair’s testimony that Kurien was with him that day. But there is no corroboration for Nair’s claims.

Joshua points out that while the investigating team arraigned and tried all the alleged rapists on the basis of the victim’s statement, the investigators refused to believe her regarding Kurien. Even though the victim had identified Kurien from a newspaper report, he was not subjected to any identification test by the girl – a major lacuna that can no longer be brushed aside.

Police logs show Kurien reaching Thiruvalla Rest House in the afternoon that day, visiting Idikkula and making over 20 phone calls from his home, the last of which was around 5 pm Kurien returned to Thiruvalla only at 10.30 pm.

Legal experts feel that the case has many loopholes. The special public prosecutor in the case, G Janardhana Kurup, noted in his autobiography Ente Jeevitham (My Life), that he was surprised how an officer of Sibi Mathews’ calibre opted not to proceed with an identification parade of the accused even after the girl complained, and instead went on to find alibis for Kurien.

Kurup wrote that as he was convinced of the victim’s account after questioning her in detail, he had tried his best to stick to her version, but was unable to continue in his post and take the case forward on account of lack of support from the office of the then Advocate General MK Damodaran. It is noteworthy that former chief minister and CPM leader VS Achyutanandan also holds the former Advocate General responsible for helping Kurien to evade justice.

The victim and her father had pleaded with Kurup not to quit the post, but he could not continue. Kurup records, however, that it was on his advice that the girl’s father filed a writ petition before the High Court demanding a CBI inquiry into the allegation of sexual abuse. Now Kerala lawyers have taken up this demand, saying that in the circumstances only a force other than the Kerala Police, preferably the CBI, can convince the public.

The State Government should no longer delay in the matter as it is well known that Kurien was cleared of the charges in an unsatisfactory manner. With the Supreme Court directing the Kerala High Court to reconsider the evidence in the case and deliver a verdict within six months, all accused are liable for fresh scrutiny. Moreover, the Centre’s new ordinance on sex crimes against women (signed by President Pranab Mukherjee) stresses the importance of the victim’s deposition, which in this case was emphatic.

Above all, the victim is adamant that Kurien assaulted her and wants a fresh probe against him. In a letter to Chief Minister Oommen Chandy (February 2), she said, “Yes, Mr Kurien exploited me. Despite the fact that I brought the matter to the notice of the police probe team, Mr Kurien was not included in the list of accused. I don’t want to see him again. I wish to see him in court”.
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