In a fresh blow to the Rajya Sabha Deputy Chairman whose exit is now virtually sealed, advocate SS Dharmarajan, the sole person convicted in the sensational Suryanelli serial rape case, has informed a Kerala television channel that PJ Kurien was with him at the Kumily Panchayat rest house on the day of the alleged rape. Kurien has countered that there is no need to give credence to the statement of a convict.
Dharmarajan, who was serving a jail term but absconded while on parole in 2005, made his sensational allegation from a secret location. While it is not known what has prompted him to speak out now, he told the channel that he had taken Kurien in his own car to Kumily, where the girl was kept in confinement. There is no need to say more, he said, everyone knows what happened. He added that he had informed the lead investigator in the case, Sibi Mathews, the then DIG (Crime) and currently Chief Information Commissioner of the State, about this, but was told not to name Kurien.
Dharmarajan is the second witness after KS Rajan to specifically allege that Sibi Mathews did not properly record the testimony given to him. On February 5, Rajan told private television channels that he had informed Mathews that he met Kurien at Idikkula’s house in Thiruvalla town around 5 pm, but that Mathews recorded this as 7 pm to provide Kurien an alibi for not being at the crime scene that day. Now Dharmarajan has directly implicated the lead investigator by stating that he was told to maintain silence over Kurien’s involvement in the case. Previously, KK Joshua, a member of the investigating team, also questioned Mathews’ role in the probe.
Interestingly, NSS general secretary G Sukumaran Nair who had deposed that Kurien was with him at Changanassery when the alleged rape took place in Idukki has gone off the radar. Thus, virtually all of Kurien’s defenses have fallen apart.
With this, the Kerala High Court, which came under a cloud after the Supreme Court on January 31 cancelled the 2007 acquittal of 35 accused and ordered retrial in the case, will have to investigate the movements of Kurien that day, as also the conduct of Sibi Mathews for alleged falsification of evidence and witness tampering. The victim has since pointed out that the apex Court discharged Kurien without hearing her; doubtless the august Court will ensure that such opprobrium does not visit the highest temple of justice again.
Dharmarajan’s unexpected testimony vindicates the victim who filed a private complaint against Kurien in 1999 before the Perumedu First Class Judicial Magistrate Court in Idukki, demanding that he be made an accused in the case. She was then only 19 years old.
Even today, her complaint, under Section 190 of Criminal Procedure Code, makes painful reading. She told the magistrate that she was studying in Class 9 in 1996, and used to travel to school by bus. She thus became acquainted with the ticket checker, Raju, who expressed a desire to marry her. One day he asked her to come away with him, which she refused, at which he threatened to morph photographs of her and some family members and defame them as he had acquired a photo album of the family from the victim’s friend Fathima.
To protect the reputation of her family members and get the album back, the girl agreed to accompany him, thinking he only wanted to marry her. They took a convoluted route to Thiruvananthapuram and were followed by a woman called Usha, also an accused in the case. At some stage they were joined by SS Dharmarajan.
Usha took charge of the victim and told her that henceforth if anyone asked she should say her name was Anjali, age 18 years, and that she was studying in college. Usha told her to travel with Dharmarajan (who gave his name as Shrikumar); they travelled to Kottayam. Here, he locked her in a room, and when she resisted, slapped her, held her neck, and raped her repeatedly. He threatened to kill her parents if she did not listen to him.
Dharmarajan took away all the money the victim was carrying, along with her gold earrings and silver anklets. Thoroughly frightened of Dharmarajan, the victim accompanied him to Ernakulum, Kozhikode, Palakkad, Kumily, Kanyakumari, and Thiruvananthapuram, where Dharmarajan and others raped her up to February 25, 1996.
On February 15, 1996, the victim was brought to Kumily Panchayat rest house. She was held in a locked room and watched over by Dharmarajan or his friend Jamal, who would let some persons in from time to time. The victim learnt from their conversation that the duo made a lot of money from these men.
On February 19, at about 7 pm, Dharmarajan let a fat khadi-clad man, about 50 years old, into the room and locked the door from outside. The victim informed the magistrate that she told this man that Dharmarajan and his friend were keeping her in unlawful custody and selling her for sex. She requested him to save her. When he ignored her pleas and she resisted his attempts to rape her, he slapped her for crying aloud and caught hold of her neck. As she fainted, he grabbed her and raped her repeatedly and brutally. Later, Dharmarajan came and took this man away, locking the room as before.
After her release, the victim and her father made a police complaint, as a result of which Raju, Usha, Dharmarajan and others were arrested. Some culprits could not be identified, but the victim recognised Kurien from a relatively large photograph published in Mathrubhoomi as the man who raped her in the Kumily rest house on February 19, 1996.
The victim has adhered to her story ever since, yet the accused has always escaped being charged in the case. Nor was he ever brought before her for identification, as happened with the other accused, 35 of whom she identified. The victim submitted affidavits of witnesses who saw Kurien in Kumily that day, but the Kerala High Court dubbed these witnesses as unreliable.
It is pertinent that Kurien, a six-term member of the Lok Sabha and three term member of the Rajya Sabha, was unanimously elected Deputy Chairman of the upper house in 2006. Clearly the august house needs to review its procedures to ensure that in future, persons accused of heinous crimes are not elevated to such exalted positions.