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Suryanelli divides Kerala

A disturbing feature of the P J Kurien issue, which has inflamed Kerala in the wake of the Supreme Court verdict in the Suryanelli rape case, has been the convergence of views between the two national parties, the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

While the Congress is treading cautiously on the issue – the prevalent view in the Congress is that the situation does not warrant a hasty decision in the matter – the BJP says the demand for reinvestigation against Kurien is politically motivated and that he need not resign until there is an adverse verdict from the apex court. The stand taken by both the national parties is, however, totally out of tune with the sense of outrage sweeping Kerala and the spirit of the latest SC verdict in the Suryanelli case. What is significant is that the Kerala BJP has taken a stand diametrically opposed to that of the national leadership. State BJP leaders including party president V Muralidharan and general secretary K Surendran have been vociferously demanding that Kurien should quit and face an investigation. The party’s women’s wing has also taken to the agitational path in support of its demand.

As if this is not enough, BJP leader K S Rajan, an eye-witness in the case, has come out with the startling revelation that the head of the special investigating team which probed the Suryanelli case, Sibi Mathews, had altered his statement, to save Kurien. Rajan said at a press conference he had told Sibi that he met Kurien at a house in Thiruvalla, which Kurien claimed to have visited on 19 February 1996, the day the Suryanelli girl said she was raped by him, at 5 pm.  Rajan has accused Sibi of having changed the time to 7 pm to tally with Kurien’s version that he was at his Thirivalla friend, Idicula’s house between 7 pm and 8 pm. Rajan has also decided  to move legally against the investigating officer. Rajan’s version, however, agrees with that of Idicula’s wife, Annamma who said Kurien, who came to her residence around 4 pm had left around 5 pm. Besides, at least two persons have claimed to have seen Kurien at the Kumali guest house in Idukki where the rape allegedly took place on that fateful day. Meanwhile, Chief Minister Oommen Chandy and Home Minister Tiruvanchoor Radhakrishnan have denied having ruled out a reinvestigation in the issue. Both now aver that all that they had stated was they would take a decision only after getting legal advice from the Director General of Prosecution. This is at sharp variance with their earlier contention that a reinvestigation is not possible under the present Indian laws! It may be pointed out that the rape victim has already got legal advice from senior SC lawyers that she can approach the Kerala HC for a reinvestigation in the case. The U-turn and change of mind on the part of Chandy and Radhakrishnan have been induced by the high command’s cautious stand on the issue and the weakening of the alibis advanced by Kurien.

Chandy and Radhakrishnan had rejected the re-probe demand on the basis of the provisions of the Cr PC and Article 20(2) which state that a person convicted or acquitted cannot be prosecuted again for the same offence. But, legal experts say, this does not apply in the case of Kurien who was never tried before a court of law. Any investigation against him, would, therefore, be a fresh investigation. What was probed was only Kurien’s alibis. Also, the normal practice is that it is an accused who raises the plea of alibi before a court producing evidence in his favour. In Kurien’s case, the evidence was collected by the investigating officer, which was not subjected to cross-examination by a public prosecutor. (IPA)
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