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Senator accused of raping 16-year-old

Allegations and street protests re-ignite

Senator accused of raping 16-year-old
Senate deputy chairman PJ Kurien denies rape allegations reporter, Thrivanamthapuram

February 8, 2013

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Riot police fired water cannon at hundreds of protestors on Friday as they demanded the resignation of a lawmaker over allegations that he raped a 16-year-old Catholic schoolgirl in 1996. 

Demonstrators have been camped outside the Kerala state assembly for the last five days to demand the resignation of PJ Kurien, 72, the deputy speaker of the state's upper house. They managed to stall proceedings by preventing local lawmakers from entering the building.

Kurlen was acquitted in 2007. But he has come under renewed pressure since the accusation resurfaced this week, following widespread anger over a notorious gang rape in Delhi in December.

The resurrection of the allegation has embarrassed the ruling Congress party, which promised to get tough on sex attackers in the wake of the Delhi incident.

The upper house is due to debate a new bill, which aims to make tough provisions on rape and other sex crimes against women, during a parliamentary budget session starting on February 21.

But the 70-year-old mother of the alleged victim sent a letter to Sonia Gandhi, chairperson of the ruling coalition, urging that Kurien be barred from attending the debate.

The controversy surrounding Kurien derives from a complaint by a Catholic schoolgirl that she was abducted and raped by 42 people over 40 days while held in captivity in the Idukki district of Kerala in early 1996.

She named Kurien, a Kerala Christian and Congress party leader, as one of the attackers.

“Then my daughter had only just completed 16 years [of her life],” the girl’s mother Ethamma Markose wrote in the letter to Gandhi. “Our family had to suffer a lot. Even now, we are ostracized in society and subjected to humiliation.”

If the bill is designed to protect women and girls then Kurien should not chair sessions in which it is discussed, she added. Some opposition lawmakers agree, despite the lack of a guilty verdict against Kurien.

“It’s a disgrace for India and women of this country with Kurien chairing the debate on a law which aims to provide safety to women in India,” said senior Communist leader VS Achuthanandan.

Despite being named by the girl, three teams of police investigators excluded Kurien from the accused list and he has not faced prosecution.

In 2007, the Kerala state court ruled that there was no evidence against Kurien, a decision that was backed by the Supreme Court when it dismissed a subsequent appeal.

Kurien has described the allegations as part of a politically motivated media campaign.

“I’ve been exonerated in the case by the Supreme Court and three police investigations acquitted me and I’m innocent,” he was quoted as saying by Indian media.

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