January  2004 
Year 11    No.104

Law: Witness Protection

Subverting the system

In the absence of a proper witness protection programme in the country, politicians with criminal antecedents continuously threaten and bribe victims and use devious means to discredit human rights defenders fighting for justice


The experience of the Kozhikode Ice Cream Parlour Case is unique in the sense that it has risen
like a phoenix from the ashes. The unprecedented and unheard of manipulation by the powers that be to protect an influential politician from being charged as an accused is history now. We in the women’s movement fought long and hard without result. So much so that towards the end we had almost reconciled ourselves to the fact that a politician accused of serious sexual misdemeanour would go unpunished.

But then out of the blue came the television interview on October 28, 2004, by Rejina, the main victim and witness in the case. She told the world that she had made a statement to the magistrate exonerating PK Kunhalikkutty, a powerful minister, because his men had paid her a substantial sum of money to do so. Kunhalikkutty was one of the most powerful men in Kerala, often referred to as the second-in-command. Kunhalikkutty was minister of Industries, Information Technology and Social Welfare in the present United Democratic Front (UDF) government and also state general secretary of the Indian Union Muslim League. Regina revealed that Kunhalikkutty’s men had also been paying off other victims/witnesses in the case. The revelation came as a bombshell, leading to waves of protests by the people that finally culminated in the resignation of the minister on January 2, 2005.

Rejina, a Muslim, was a 16-year-old girl when she first went to Sreedevi’s beauty parlour near the Beach Hospital in Kozhikode for a beautician’s course. Gradually, Sreedevi started taking her to various places and introduced her to influential men. In exchange for sexual favours to them, Rejina was given some clothing and money. According to Rejina’s statement, Kunhalikkutty had sexual relations with her on three occasions from 1994-96. He was Kerala’s industries minister during this period.

On the basis of a memorandum presented by Anweshi Women’s Counselling Centre, Kozhikode, to the chief minister of Kerala on August 4, 1997, the Ndakkavu Police Station registered an FIR (No. 282/97) in the matter on August 6, 1997.

The point to be noted here is that the events took place during 1994-96, while the Congress-led UDF was in power. Rejina had first revealed PK Kunhalikkutty’s involvement in the sex scandal in a statement made to the investigation team (under section 161 CrPC) in September 1997. Three other women victims also gave statements to the police regarding the minister’s involvement in the case. The police arrested Sreedevi, PA Rahman (a known smuggler) and some others along with two ex-mayors – TP Dasan (CPI-M) and O. Rajagopal (CPI). The then Kozhikode police commissioner, Ms. Neera Rawat, an IPS officer from North India, had also suspended a DySP for his involvement in the case. Initially he was also to be listed as an accused but due to opposition from the police he was later exonerated.

To begin with, the city’s police commissioner was personally conducting the entire investigation. But two months later, after the arrests of 12 culprits, the investigation was suddenly transferred to the DIG of police. This led to serious misgivings in the public mind and there was an outcry from people’s organisations and movements who were agitating for justice in the case. A public debate ensued and was widely reported by the media. Anweshi approached the Kerala high court asking for a CBI enquiry into the case because we suspected foul play in the change of the investigation officer.

In January 1998, Rejina appeared in the judicial first class magistrate’s court. Here she once again revealed that she had been paid nearly Rs. 2 lakh by PK Kunhalikkutty’s men (she named all of them) and was being pressurised to withdraw the statements she had made to the police mentioning the minister’s involvement in the case. She also complained that the police were not taking down her statements correctly, which is why she was appearing before the magistrate. On January 6, 1998, the magistrate recorded her statement under section 164 CrPC. In this statement she reiterated Kunhalikkutty’s involvement in the sex scandal, saying that he had sexual relations with her on three occasions at three different locations between 1994-1996.

After this, Rejina approached the Kerala Women’s Commission with the same complaint. The then chairperson of the women’s commission, Sugathakumari took down the statement in her own hand. The commission then summoned all six henchmen of Kunhalikkutty whom Rejina had accused. Since Kunhalikkutty was an MLA at the time, the commission asked the speaker of the legislative assembly for permission to summon him. But before the commission could do anything, Rejina’s mother telephoned the chairperson and told her that Rejina was withdrawing the statement because of threats from Kunhalikkutty’s men. Stymied by Rejina’s withdrawal, the commission was unable to take further action, but it did submit a report to the government demanding a CBI enquiry into the case. The government, however, put the report in cold storage.

Meanwhile, in February 1998, the then director general of prosecutions, advocate Kallada Sukumaran filed a report with the government after going through the case diary submitted by the police. In this report, the DGP (Kallada) clearly stated that there were lapses in the police investigation. He said that five more persons should have been arrested, the first name in the list being Kunhalikkutty followed by his driver and three others.

But the government took no action on this report. However, the report was leaked to the press and became a matter for public debate. It was then that Anweshi approached the high court petitioning that Kunhalikkutty and four others should be arrested immediately on the basis of the DGP’s report and Rejina’s statement of January 1998. After this, the police arrested Kunhalikkutty’s driver and the three others mentioned but the minister himself was allowed to go scot-free.

Meanwhile, Kunhalikkutty’s men had already trapped the victim girls. They were all offered money to change their statements, and his men threatened that they would ‘finish them off’ if they refused. Rejina was under immense pressure all along and more so in the wake of these events. On March 31, 1999 she was taken to the magistrate’s court in Kunnamangalam by the investigation officer, the assistant commissioner of police, AV George, and made to give a statement to the Kunnamangalam magistrate’s court. In this statement, while reaffirming that Sreedevi had taken her to all the places mentioned in her January 1998 statement before a magistrate under section 164 CrPC, Rejina added that Kunhalikkutty was not present in any of those places. She stated that she had only mentioned his name due to pressure from Ajitha, president of Anweshi.

On the strength of this second statement, the police submitted another report, exonerating Kunhalikkutty. Anweshi challenged the subterfuge in the high court. Though the petition was filed in 1999 the verdict dismissing the petition came only in 2003, after Kunhalikkutty was again made a senior minister in the UDF government.

While the Supreme Court was hearing our special leave petition (SLP), the then Left Democratic Front (LDF) government led by chief minister EK Nayanar took a strange stand, claiming that there was no evidence against Kunhalikkutty and that Ajitha (of Anweshi) was targeting him due to personal vendetta. The IG and DIG of police submitted affidavits in the Supreme Court accusing Ajitha of being an old Naxalite closely connected with the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) chairman Abdul Nazar Madani, who had long been at loggerheads with Kunhalikkutty. They also argued that the director general of prosecutions had not studied the case diary thoroughly, only superficially, and so he was wrong.

While one would expect the State to be defending the de facto complainant, here we saw the doggedness with which the State defended an influential and powerful politician. The government eschewed all boundaries of decency and went out of its way to exonerate Kunhalikkutty. Recent exposés in the media reveal that shady political deals were struck by some corrupt elements in the Nayanar ministry with Kunhalikkutty and his henchmen. So it would not be too presumptuous to say it was the LDF that paved the way in making Kunhalikkutty one of Kerala’s most powerful ministers. He has grown into a mafia don, representing all multinational interests in Kerala’s economy, thus selling our land to the interests of international capital. He now embodies the criminalisation of politics in Kerala. He even tries to whip up communal sentiment, which in turn encourages the Hindutva forces as well.

In her latest statement, aired on television channels on October 28, 2004, Rejina confirmed Kunhalikkutty’s role in the entire sex racket run by Sreedevi in the Ice Cream Parlour case. But even after this, she was once again pressurised and bribed to change her latest statement. She then publicly declared that she had made the statement under pressure from Ajitha, of Anweshi. She is now living under extremely vulnerable conditions surrounded by her mother, who has been continuously bribed and her husband, who according to Rejina’s own statement was chosen for her by Kunhalikkutty’s men.

In an outburst of anger against the media, Kunhalikkutty and his goons had the audacity to physically assault more than 30 media persons, including a woman journalist, Ms. Deepa of Asianet, on November 1, 2004 while Anweshi was threatened. Another state minister, MK Muneer, Kunhalikkutty’s colleague in the Kerala cabinet, was also threatened because he happened to be chairman of the India Vision channel, which was the first to telecast Rejina’s statement.

How can we expect Rejina, a lonely woman with a child, to withstand this kind of pressure and fight bravely for the truth? If powerful politicians, police and other government officials, not to mention so-called social workers, have no scruples in taking bribes, how can we blame a totally powerless girl and other victims for taking money to change their statements every now and then?

(K. Ajitha is president, Anweshi Women’s Counselling Centre, Kozhikode).

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