The infamous Suryanelli rape case has come back to haunt not just those who had been let off by Kerala High Court in 2005. It has caught up with a high-profile Congress leader, Rajya Sabha Deputy Chairman P.J. Kurien, who is now fighting a rearguard action to save his post and reputation.
The girl in question hails from a village called Suryanelli in Idukki district in Kerala. According to the case, the girl, then 16, was transported across the state for 40 days and subjected to rape by as many as 42 men way back in 1996. Setting aside the trial court verdict, Kerala High Court exonerated all the accused, except a lawyer by name S.S. Dharmarajan who is still on the lam, citing lack of evidence.
After the recent Delhi rape case that rocked the country, the Supreme Court ordered a retrial of the Suryanelli case. Much as the girl had repeatedly named Kurien as one of her rapists, it is alleged that his name was not included in the list of the accused thanks to huge pressure from the corridors of power.
The girl's mother has sent missives not only to Chief Minister Oommen Chandy but to Congress president Sonia Gandhi as well to bring Kurien to book. Protests by the opposition parties inside and outside of the assembly have convulsed the Congress party whose leaders, both central and state, have had the cack-handed job of defending Kurien despite the girl's persistent pleadings to book him.
Unfortunately, this is at a time when the Supreme Court's suggestion that naming of the culprit by the victim is ground enough to put him on trial reverberates though the citizens, who have yet to recover from the shock and anguish of the Delhi rape.
Besides, an anti-rape bill is slated to come up for discussion in the forthcoming session of parliament and, hopefully, a new law with teeth would be passed. No doubt, there would be a smidgeon of irony in that the embattled Kurien, as deputy chairman of the Rajya Sabha, may have to preside over discussions over crimes against women.
This is the reason many believe that he would be asked to resign from the post before the session starts on February 21 despite his statements to the contrary. The central leadership of the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) has adopted a blasé approach in the case while its state unit is stridently against Kurien continuing in the dignified position.
Why the BJP high command has not jumped into the fray against Kurien is a mystery though the party's Rajya Sabha leader, Arun Jaitely, has a personal reason for remaining mum if not backing him. It was Jaitely who argued Kurien's case in the Supreme Court which fully exonerated him.
Chief Minister Oommen Chandy and other top leaders, including Union Defence Minister A.K. Antony, have adopted a pro-Kurien stand, though the latter said that ultimately the law would take its own course.
Though there is no love lost between Chandy and Kurien, the former has no alternative but to bat for him. He knows full well that a cacophony of diverse views on this issue would be suicidal when the parliamentary polls are at the doorstep.
The opposition, led by V.S. Achuthanandan, demands a re-investigation of Kurien's role as some pro-Kurien witnesses have now changed their versions based on which he had been let off the hook.
Chandy says the government cannot order a reinvestigation as all the courts of the land have exonerated Kurien. He kicked the ball upfield and said Achuthanandan did not do anything on this issue while he was the chief minister.
The blame game apart, it is important that the truth come out at a fast clip. It is understandable that Kurien doesn't want to get into the Suryanelli web yet again. But the growing demand in the state cannot be waved off, not least in view of the upcoming poll.
The lingering doubts in the people's minds is not just because of the shifting versions of the witnesses but also because of the fact that the case was investigated by a team led by inspector-general of police Siby Mathew, which found no evidence whatsoever on Kurien's involvement in the case.
It was Siby Mathew who had investigated the spy case of the nineties that put the former chief minister and Congress strongman Karunakaran in the dock. Later a CBI inquiry found that the whole case was a myth and gave Karunakaran a clean chit, albeit posthumously.
If Kurien is innocent, as he protests to be, why is he so scared of a re-investigation? To be sure, another tiring court battle may be weighing on his mind that could spell the end of his blooming career. Whatever the case, the truth must prevail.
The writer is a freelance contributor based in India. All the views and opinions expressed in the article are solely those of the author and do not reflect those of Times of Oman.