Accused rapist to head delegation to Vatican

Anger over MP's trip to pope's inaugural mass reporter, Thiruvananthapuram, India

March 18, 2013

Social activists have condemned a government decision to send an MP accused of raping a schoolgirl to lead a four-member delegation to the installation Mass of Pope Francis at the Vatican.

An official communiqu said on Saturday that P J Kurien, a Christian and deputy chairman of the upper house of parliament, will head the delegation representing India at the inaugural papal Mass on Tuesday.

The delegation includes MP Jose K. Mani, Kurien’s wife, and his private secretary, all of them Christians from Kerala.

India’s decision to send Kurien was “anti-women and a farce," said Suja Soosan George, a social activist based in Kottayam.

She said Kurien's Congress Party, which heads the ruling coalition, is using the papal ceremony to exonerate Kurien. "It’s a shame. We have been fighting for the cause of the girl for the last 17 years,” George said.

In January 1996, a then-16-year-old victim named Kurien among 42 people who raped her after being kidnapped and held in confinement for 40 days.

“I’m more pained than ever. His presence at the ceremony will be a disgrace for the new pope. But we can’t stop him from going,” said Mani Markose, father of the rape victim.

Markose, who is Catholic, believes political connections have protected Kurien over the last 17 years.

Three separate police investigations and a Supreme Court decision in 2007 cleared Kurien, but on January 31 the Supreme Court ordered a retrial, bringing the case back into the limelight.

MP M B Rajesh is seeking an explanation from the government on the decision to send Kurien to represent India, while the state opposition leader, V S Achuthanandan, said it sends the wrong message to the international community.

“If the law was fair, Kurien would have faced prosecution and trial,” he said.

Hundreds of people on Facebook expressed shock and dismay over the decision.