Sentenced to 20 years’ imprisonment by the Thalassery Pocso court in February 2019, in what is infamously known as the ‘Kottiyoor rape case’, a 52-year-old Vadakkumuchery through counsel Amit George argued before a bench of Justices Vineet Saran and Dinesh Maheshwari that he had a fundamental right to marry and the court cannot refuse him that right.
The rape survivor, who was repeatedly sexually assaulted by the priest when she was just 16 years old and gave birth to a boy in February 2017, too requested the bench through senior advocate Kiran Suri that grant of interim bail to Vadakkumuchery would enable them to get married and give legitimacy to the child, who needs a name of his father for admission to school.
Keeping in view the consistent ruling of the SC that the proposal to marry the rape survivor after getting convicted for rape warranted no leniency, the bench of Justices Saran and Maheshwari told Vadakkumuchery, who was expelled by Pope Francis in February last year from all priestly duties and rights, that the conviction still stands against him. “Whatever relief you want you must appeal to the Kerala High Court which is in session of your appeal against conviction,” the bench said. “As far as the present appeals are concerned, we will not entertain them,” the bench said, throwing out the orchestrated marriage plea from both the rape survivor and the rapist.
The modus operandi and pressure tactics brought on by the former Catholic priest was evident from the fact that immediately after the minor girl gave birth to a child, the woman’s own father claimed that he had raped his daughter and impregnated her. Only later, he had broken down and confessed that the real father of the illegitimate child was Vadakkumuchery, which was established beyond doubt through a DNA test.
In February this year, the Kerala HC had dismissed Vadakkumchery’s petition seeking bail to marry the rape survivor. After considering the 52-year-old’s contention that it was consensual sex and that he had renounced his priesthood to marry the survivor, Justice Sunil Thomas of the HC had said the trial court’s finding that the survivor was a minor at the time of the alleged rape is still in force.
As Vadakkumuchery’s appeal against the conviction is pending before the HC, allowing the parties to get married while the trial court’s finding that the survivor was a minor remains, would mean granting judicial approval to the marriage, the HC had said. The SC on Monday said there was no ground for interfering with the well-reasoned order of the HC refusing bail.
The HC had said, “The trial court has arrived at a finding that the victim was a child at the time of incident. As long as that finding remains, which itself is one of the crucial issues involved in the appeal, granting bail to enable the parties to get married and have custody of child will be giving legal sanctity to such marriage and thereby prejudging the crucial issue involved in the appeal. Allowing the prayer will amount to granting judicial approval to the marriage directly, indirectly or by implication. I feel that, in such circumstances, this Court should ‘remain absolutely away’ from such issues, as indicated in Supreme Court’s 2015 judgment in Mandanlal’s case, so that appeal can be heard and decided on merits, untrammeled by any finding in his application.”
In its July 1, 2015 judgment in Madanlal’s case, the SC had said, “We would like to clearly state that in a case of rape or attempt of rape, the conception of compromise under no circumstances can really be thought of. These are crimes against the body of a woman which is her own temple. These are offences which suffocate the breath of life and sully the reputation.”
In April this year, the Kerala High Court had quashed criminal proceedings initiated against a man for having allegedly raped a 17-year-old girl. The HC’s decision came when the rape accused informed the court that he and the rape survivor have entered into marriage. The HC said, “In the light of the fact that they have entered into a matrimonial relationship, there is no purpose in continuing the proceedings. Even if the trial court is allowed to proceed with the trial, it is certain that material witnesses who are respondents 1 and 2 are not going to support the case. That means, it would be a futile exercise to continue the proceedings… For the well being of the couple also, it is only expedient to terminate the proceedings. The proceedings are quashed, no public interest is going to hamper.”