RAJYA SABHA Deputy Chairman and former Union minister PJ Kurien is under a cloud once again after the Supreme Court on 31 January ordered the Kerala High Court to conduct a retrial of the Suryanelli rape case. The victim, a native of Suryanelli in Kerala’s Idukki district, was a teenager in 1996 when she was abducted and raped by 42 men over 40 days.
While the girl had complained that her tormentors included Kurien, who allegedly raped her at the Kumily Panchayat Guest House in Idukki district, police officials investigating the case did not include Kurien in the list of accused, citing insufficient evidence against him. Except Dharmarajan, a lawyer, the high court acquitted the rest of the accused.
The victim had also filed a private complaint at Peermade First Class Judicial Magistrate Court in Idukki to name Kurien as an accused. However, the Supreme Court had discharged Kurien in the case in 2007.
Now, 17 years after the trauma, in a letter written to Chief Minister Oommen Chandy, the victim has asked for a reinvestigation into Kurien’s role in the case. The victim has alleged that the apex court had earlier discharged Kurien without hearing her, and she suspects the police had helped him to get away.
“There will be a fresh hearing in the Suryanelli case, not a retrial,” a senior advocate in the Kerala High Court, A Jayashanker, told TEHELKA. “The registrar of the high court will summon all the accused in the case, who have to appear before the Division Bench and apply for bail. If any of the accused fails to show up, fresh warrants would be issued against them. But the high court may fail to complete all these procedures within six months — the time-frame set by the apex court.”
Meanwhile, the Kerala Police has already started informal investigations through its intelligence wing to locate all the accused in the case. “Only six of them were identified and located. The others have shifted from the addresses recorded earlier,” says a senior police official.
In fact, Dharmarajan, the first accused, has been absconding after getting bail, and his family claims to have no knowledge of his whereabouts since 2005. Dharmarajan was an advocate in Kottayam district when he was accused in the Suryanelli case. He belongs to a family of lawyers; his father was an advocate and his brother is now a district judge in Kerala.
Talking to the media in Thiruvananthapuram, Kurien called the issue a malicious campaign of political victimisation led by the Opposition, and alleged the media was being unfair to him. “I was cleared by three different police investigation teams, and the apex court too exonerated me. Even in the private complaint filed by the victim, the high court discharged me. In the eyes of God also, I have done no wrong.”
But Kurien got a major jolt in the case after two key witnesses backtracked from their earlier statements. Siby Mathews, then DIG (Crime) who led the probe into the rape case in 1996, had exonerated Kurien based on the statements given by Annamma Idikula of Tiruvalla town in Pathanamthitta district and Rajan Muleveettil, a local BJP leader who had said he met Kurien in Tiruvalla at 7 pm on 19 February 1996. Idikula had earlier said Kurien was at her place from 4 pm to 8 pm that day, while the victim alleged that Kurien raped her at the Kumily Panchayat guesthouse between 6.30 pm and 7.30 pm. In his report, Mathews had concluded that Kurien could not have been at Kumily, 114 km from Tiruvalla, at 6.30 pm.
Now, Idikula has told the media that though Kurien had reached her house at 4 pm, he left within 30-40 minutes. Kurien dismissed her new statement as “loss of memory due to old age”. Muleveettil, too, has changed his statement, saying he did not meet Kurien at 7 pm.
With the alibis falling apart, Kurien is heading for serious trouble. Along with the Opposition Left Democratic Front, the BJP has demanded reinvestigation of Kurien’s involvement. V Muraleedharan, state president of the BJP, told TEHELKA that Kurien should step down as the Rajya Sabha deputy chairman to allow fair investigation in the case.