Dr T N Seema is the only woman Rajya Sabha Member from Kerala. A former Malayalam lecturer in a college, she represents the Communist Party of India-Marxist and is also the state president of All India Democratic Women's Association.
The politburo of the CPI-M has officially demanded the resignation of the Deputy Chairman of the Rajya Sabha, Prof PJ Kurien, for his alleged involvement in the Suryanelli serial-rape-case that happened 17 years ago in Kerala.
Naturally, Seema's voice in the Rajya Sabha will be of importance when the Parliament meets for the budget session on Thursday. In this interview with Rediff.com’s Shobha Warrier, the Parliamentarian speaks about the party's strategy in the Rajya Sabha.
Now that your party has asked Kurien to resign and he has refused, what do you plan to do, as a Rajya Sabha member from Kerala, when the Parliament session begins this week?
Our demand is that Kurien should resign from the constitutional position that he holds and face a probe. Though the Kerala government is not ready to order an enquiry, the victim has planned to move ahead legally. So has the All India Democratic Women's Association.
A person who has been accused by a girl cannot sit on the chair when women's issues, women's bill, criminal amendment bill, etc. are discussed. So, we demand that he get down from the chair, or in simple words, resign from the post of deputy chairmanship.
He has been saying that he is innocent and will not resign. What will you do if he doesn't resign?
We will boycott the parliament.
But it will not solve the issue...
No, it will not. By boycotting the Rajya Sabha, what we mean is, we are not ready to discuss any issue when he is the deputy chairman of the house. We are also approaching other like-minded parties to discuss how such bills cannot be discussed with him in the chair.
At the same time, we also will continue our protest outside the house. The AIDWA also is proceeding legally. So, our approach is campaign, protests and also legal moves.
Which are the other parties that would come to support you in this issue?
The Bharatiya Janata Party also has come out saying they want Kurien to resign. That means they also will boycott the house if he continues there. There are also other parties such as the Telugu Desam, the Janata Dal-United, etc which have been with the Left always. We are expecting them to join hands with us.
We are talking to all the women members of Parliament from both the houses.
Who are the MPS from the Left who would be doing the lobbying with all the other women MPs?
From the Left, other than me, Jharna Das Baidya from Tripura and Sushmita Bauri from West Bengal are the other women MPs. Brinda Karat has already spoken to Jaya Bachchan and she has promised to support us.
Both the Congress party in Kerala and Kurien himself say that what the Left is doing is a politically motivated attack. Is it so?
My question to those who raise this accusation is, who is pointing the finger? Who has registered the complaint against Kurien? It is the victim herself and not the Left.
Even after 17 years, the victim says that it was this man who abused her. She also says that he was the man who was the most brutal to her. The family strongly believes that the legal proceedings that happened then were not complete.
Kurien says that from the Supreme Court down, he was declared innocent. But the truth is, no court has tried him. What he had got was a discharge petition which was based on the high court verdict that set free all the men except Dharmarajan.
The dramatic turn occurred after the Supreme Court quashed the high court verdict. That means, anything that is vaguely connected with the high court judgement stands questioned.
Above all, in the last one month, there are new statements from witnesses which make Kurien's stance questionable. Also, what we earlier felt was that Sibi Mathews, the investigating officer, had done a sincere investigation. But what we understand now is, proper investigation was not done then.
I want to say, the CPI-M or the AIDWA or anybody else does not have to bring in Kurien to this picture now, all of a sudden.
What Kurien says even today is, during the election time in 1996, the CPI-M made him a target to tarnish his image...
From then onwards, that has been his defence. Today, we come to know that there was a conscious effort by the investigation team to save him.
Has it been proved at any time that Kurien was innocent? He never faced any trial. He only wriggled out of the case while the victim has been constantly saying he was one of the persons who abused her.
Look at this from her point of view. If she has been genuinely talking, doesn't she deserve justice?
During former Chief Minister E K Nayanar's time, Kurien was absolved only due to some alibis. What Mathew said recently was, he had explained the situation to Nayanar and the chief minister himself told him not to proceed against Kurien.
That was the legal advice Nayanar received. When there was not enough evidence against a person in the investigation report, Nayanar didn't want to make a case against him. If he had done that, it would have been termed political vengeance.
But today, we understand that it was the prosecution side who came up with all these alibis. Why did they do that? What is the motive behind this? So, even today, many questions remain unanswered.
Why are we asking for a re-investigation? We feel that the victim has been denied justice in this case. As per the new ordinance, the testimony of the victim is very important.
The high court judgement was quite critical of the girl's conduct and recently, Justice Basant repeated in a private conversation that it could be termed as child prostitution.
It is very absurd, illegal and abusive to call a rape victim, a child prostitute. So many men used a 16-year-old, and you describe this as child prostitution? If it is child prostitution, you can term it as child labour itself, and that itself is against the law.
The court set the 35 men free saying her conduct was bad, and it was this judgement that the Supreme Court criticised in harsh terms. Even after that, it is shocking that this judge repeats that statement.
I see two things. One is the reflection of a strong patriarchal mindset. Second, we have to investigate why such a judgement was written forgetting the fact that a poor 16-year-old girl was used by more than 40 men.
The latest is the comment by K Sudhakaran, a Congress MP who described the girl as a prostitute...
What Sudhakaran said is wrong for two reasons. One, by calling a young woman, a prostitute, he was insulting the entire womenfolk. So, a case can be registered against him. Secondly, this is a case that is in the Supreme Court and the court has asked the high court to re-examine it.
When the matter is subjudice, he cannot talk in a biased manner. Then, an elected representative is not supposed to talk in such a derogatory manner about women.
This is not the first time Sudhakaran is making such absurd statements. We, women MPs plan to meet the Congress party president herself and ask her to take action against such party members.
The Kerala government has made it clear that it will not reopen the case and anybody can go to the court asking for the same. What do you have to say about that?
Anybody can go to the court. The government doesn't have to tell anyone this. It is the government that is expected to support the victim. But here, when a victim writes to the chief minister pleading that she has not been given justice yet, the state government has not only not come to her rescue but taken a political stand by supporting Kurien.
Let the government openly say that we are not ready to support the victim.
Let me ask, who is politicising the issue, the Left or the Congress?
What we at AIDWA have decided is, we are going to legally and financially support her. It was the Idukki unit of AIDWA that first came forward to support her.
When AIDWA supports her like this, will it not give political colour to the whole issue?
It may, but just because of that, we cannot remain aloof. When this incident happened 17 years ago in a remote village in Idukki, it was only AIDWA that went to help her. We have politics and political colour but we can't help it.
We help many victims but not many know about it. This case is out in the open only because a well know politician such as Kurien's name is involved in it.
Would you have supported her with the same intensity if name like Kurien's was not there?
There is no question about it. We have a legal cell and we take up all the deserving cases that come to us. Only cases like this are talked about and discussed but there are many other girls who face the same kind of problems. It is unfair to say AIDWA took up the case because Kurien's name is involved.
When AIDWA filed a petition in the Supreme Court, we were asked, who are you to file the petition? We look at it not as an isolated case but one that can be a symbol of all those cases that are unsolved and unheard.
This was an incident that happened here in Kerala but now, it has become a national issue...
I see it as a positive sign. Suryanelli case is not an issue that concerns Kerala alone. Incidents like this are happening all over the country, girls like her are victimised and powerful people are involved.
We should see that such incidents do not happen anywhere in the country. I appreciate the role of the media and the Supreme Court in dealing with it.
This is the perfect example of how a victim can be denied justice even after several years. This has to be discussed all over the country for how morally and legally, a state failed to protect a 16-year-old girl.