With the Supreme Court reopening the Suryanelli case, the horrific gang-rape of a 16-year-old girl from the small town in Kerala has returned to haunt the nation.
The girl was held captive and raped by 42 men for 40 days.
In 2005, the Kerala high court had convicted only one man for the gang-rape and acquitted the remaining 34 accused.
The gang-rape victim had named senior Congress leader and Rajya Sabha Deputy Chairman P J Kurien as one of her tormentors. However, Kurien was exonerated by the Supreme Court in 2007.
Recently, the Supreme Court also set aside the high court’s verdict and demanded a re-trial in the case.
The clamour for Kurien’s resignation has grown since the apex court’s order. The Opposition Left Front has held violent protests and agitations across Kerala to demand Kurien’s resignation.
With the Congress-led United Democratic Front strongly defending Kurien, the opposition parties are up in arms against the ruling party in the state.
In an exclusive interview with rediff.com’s Shobha Warrior, Kerala Home Minister Thiruvanchoor Radhakrishnan explains why the state government cannot re-open the infamous case.
Why does the Congress party claim that the agitations and protests by opposition parties are politically motivated?
There have been many protests in the state by the opposition parties. We believe they are politically motivated. Let us take the case of Dharmarajan who was convicted by the court. He is a hardcore Left Front follower and he was a student leader when the incident happened 17 years ago. (Dharmarajan has recently claimed that he took Kurien to the guest House in Kumali where the girl had been held.)
Though we are not looking at the case as a political one, the Left parties are making it into a political issue.
Recently, the President signed an ordinance that says importance has to be given to the deposition of the victim in a rape case. The girl has stated the name of P J Kurien as one of her rapists. What do you have to say about that?
Our problem is that the case was closed and according to the high court, the case had reached its finality. When a court closes a case, the state government has no authority to order a further enquiry. If anyone wants another enquiry, they can very well approach the court and get relief from the court. Why are they not doing so?
The Suryanelli victim has sent a petition seeking justice to Chief Minister Oomen Chandy. As the ruling party, is it not the duty of the state to listen to her grievance?
You must understand that a government has to follow the rules of the land. According to our Constitution and the CrPC (Criminal Procedure Code), we just cannot reopen the case. That is the problem that we face.
Unfortunately, in this particular case, we cannot do anything as only the court can re-open the case. As you know, this case has been lengthily discussed by the court. So, after judicial scrutiny and after the finality of the Supreme Court, how can a state government re-open a case?
We have sympathy for womenfolk as a whole and that is why we are introducing a new bill in the assembly in a day or two.
The Supreme Court set aside the Kerala high court’s judgment...
That is why we are saying, let the aggrieved party approach the court. This case was thrashed out in all the courts -- the Peelumedu court, the sessions court, the high court and then the Supreme Court. If they are not happy, the aggrieved can approach the court again. Nobody is preventing them.
Is your party in a dilemma now about whose side you should take -- your party member's side or the victim's side?
No, we are not politically divided. All our party members have their sympathy towards the womenfolk.
You mean, sympathetic to this particular girl?
(We are sympathetic) In general. In Delhi, our party is sympathetic to all women. When the gang rape happened in Delhi, our party president took a very strong stand. Similarly, in Kerala, we don't want our women to suffer due to the misdeeds of some men. So our sympathies are always with women. But in this particular case, various courts have thrashed it.
Didn't the girl write to the chief minister asking for justice?
Yes, the girl has written to us with an introduction from the opposition leader. The moment we got the letter, we sent it for a legal opinion.
Whatever is the opinion of the law experts, we will obey that.
Now that your legal experts have given the opinion that there is no need to re-open the case, what does your government plan to do?
We are discussing the options that are before us. Soon, we will announce our decision.
Did you discuss the issue with the central leadership of the Congress? Though P J Kurien is based in Delhi, the agitation is taking place in Kerala…
Whether we discuss this with the high command or the central leadership, that is secondary because our central leadership is in full support of all women.
Should Kurien continue as the deputy leader of the Rajya Sabha or resign from the post he holds?
These are all politically motivated arguments about which I cannot say anything. That decision should be taken by our leaders in Delhi.
Isn’t this a tough situation for the UDF to be in?
I would say the Left Front is in a dilemma, not us. They are facing serious infighting and they want to chase their leader (former chief minister V S Achuthanandan) out. In order to divert the attention of the people from that, they are making all this noise.
Image: Kerala Home Minister Thiruvanchoor Radhakrishnan | Photograph: Shobha Warrier