Defending Suryanelli verdict, former HC Judge lands in row
Stoking controversy, a former Kerala High Court judge on Saturday defended a judgement acquitting 35 accused in the Suryanelli gangrape case, in which Rajya Sabha Deputy Chairman PJ Kurien was allegedly involved, saying the victim was used in child prostitution and not raped.
“There was ample evidence to show the girl was used for child prostitution, which is not rape,” Justice R Basant, part of a two-judge bench that acquitted the accused in 2005, was shown as saying on a Malayalam TV channel.
As a controversy erupted, the Judge later maintained his comments were recorded using a hidden camera.
Justice Basant told PTI, he had refused to talk to the TV journalist on camera, but there was some hidden camera.
“I just walked into it. I know what I have said. All I can say, look into the judgement”.
He was only quoting from the judgement and it was a casual conversation, he said.
The former judge’s views came under attack from women and youth outfits, which condemned them as his verdict was recently set aside by the Supreme Court, reverting the matter to the High Court.
“My response is, if anyone wants to know about the judgement, read the judgement,” the retired judge said.
“If I was asked to decide the case again, I would decide the same way. Please read the judgement”, he said on the TV channel.
The case pertains to the alleged abduction and rape of a 16 year-old from Suryanelli in the Idukki district in 1996.
She was forcibly taken to different places and allegedly raped by several men over a period of 40 days.
In September 2000, a special court had sentenced the 35 accused to rigorous imprisonment for varying terms. However, a division bench of the High Court comprising Justices K A Abdul Gaffoor and Basant, acquitted all.
Mr. Kurien is not part of the 35 accused, but the victim had filed a private complaint later on accusing him of involvement in the sexual assault.
Mr. Kurien’s name figured again in connection with the case after the victim recently wrote to her advocate to explore the possibility of filing a review petition, seeking a fresh probe against him, triggering demands for his resignation. He has maintained that he has already been cleared of the charges by the apex court.
“If you read the judgement you will know why Justice Gaffoor (the fellow judge who is no more) and me had acquitted the accused. Please read the judgement. You will know why the girl was disbelieved, how much time we took to write the judgement,” Justice Basant was shown as saying on the channel.
“You should read the judgement and not say things like politicians on the platform for getting applause,” he said. “Nobody reads the judgement, you just make comments”.
When pointed out that the apex court had expressed ’shock’ on reading the HC judgement, he said those who have not read the judgement, will be shocked.
“I am not blaming her. The girl is not normal, she is deviant. All these are there in the judgement”, Justice Basant said.
Women activists expressed shock at the former judge’s statements. President of Anweshi, an NGO, K Ajitha said, justice Basant was an ‘insult’ to all judges in the country.
Another activist Suja Susan said, she was shocked with justice Basant’s views.
Youth and women outfits of different political parties came out in protest across the State including in Justice Basant’s hometown Thalassery in Kannur district, where he had gone to address a seminar on “what after the Delhi incident.”
Activists of CPI(M) youth outfit DYFI waved black flags to Justice Basant when his car entered the town and in several other towns his effigy was burnt.
Regretting he was subjected to “unethical” journalistic practice, Justice Basant said he was unaware of being interviewed and his views would be telecast.
At the seminar, Justice Basant said, he repeatedly told the reporter that if anybody felt his judgement was wrong then it should be read. The former judge said he thought that the journalist had come for a discussion and not to beam it on the channel.
“In the name of journalism you should not resort to unethical practices. The credibility of journalism will be at stake if you resort to such tactics. There should be some ethics in journalism,” he said.
CPI(M) veteran and opposition leader V S Achuthanandan sharply reacted to Basant’s statement.