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|May 8, 1999||
P J Kurien found prima facie guilty in sex case
D Jose in Thiruvananthapuram
The sensational Suryanelli sex scandal, which was a major campaign point in the 1996 Lok Sabha and assembly elections in Kerala, has staged a comeback in the run up to the mid-term election with a court in Idukki district finding Congress chief whip in the dissolved Lok Sabha and former Union minister Prof P J Kurien prima facie guilty in the case.
The senior Congress leader, who was exonerated thrice by the state police following their investigations, has been asked by the Peermedu Judicial First Class Magistrate to appear before the court on June 7 while disposing of a private complaint filed by the 15-year-old victim.
The girl had alleged that Prof Kurien, who was then a minister in the Narasimha Rao cabinet, had sexually abused her at the Kumily rest-house on February 19, 1996. Though she could not recognise him then, later she identified him from a picture published in one of the local dailies on March 26, 1996 and submitted a petition to the then chief minister A K Antony.
Deputy inspector general of police V Rajivan, appointed by the government to probe the charge, could not find any evidence against the former minister and declared him innocent. Though Kurien won the Mavelikkara Lok Sabha seat comfortably in the ensuing election, the CPI-M led government, which came to power in the state a short time later, ordered a high level investigation by a special team led by DIG Siby Mathews. This team also could not substantiate the charge levelled by the victim, especially since his itinerary conflicted with the date, time and place mentioned in the petition.
The team came to the conclusion that it was near impossible for Prof Kurien to be with the girl at Kumily during the time mentioned by her. Later another police inquiry was also ordered on the basis of an anonymous letter received by the Peermedu court. The probe conducted by the Idukki superintendent of police also came to the same conclusion.
Following this, the victim approached the court with the private complaint. The magistrate after examining the victim, her parents and eight witnesses formed the opinion that the Congress leader can be made an accused in the case. The main case filed before the Thodupuzha court had 42 accused.
The 15-year-old girl, who was studying at Little Flower Convent at Munnar, was abducted from the hostel on January 16 and returned after 40 days of sexual abuse by different persons at different places across the state. The crime branch, which investigated the case, has arrested 40 of the 42 accused. Several Congress leaders and prominent citizens figure in the list of the accused.
The Peermedu court's verdict has come as relief, however small, to the girl, who has been agonisingly waiting for justice for the past three years. Though the Kerala government had announced its decision to set up a special court for the speedy trial of the case as early as December 1996, it is yet to materialise. The girl, protected by two women constables and an armed male constable, has been confined to her house.
Sex scandals have been haunting the Congress-led United Democratic Front since 1996. The Kozhikode sex scandal was a major cup of woe for the UDF in the 1998 election with allegations that P K Kunhalikutty, a top leader of the Indian Union Muslim League, one of its constituents, was involved in the racket doing the rounds during the campaign.
Though the police have given a clean chit to the leader, who is a former minister, various women's organisations in the state are pursuing legal and other options for implicating him in the case. Stree Vedi leader K Ajitha, a former Naxalite, has planned to launch an indefinite hunger strike for his arrest if the courts dismissed her plea.
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