The High Court of Kerala has dismissed the plea of anticipatory bail of four priests of Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church, alleged to be involved in a sexual abuse case. They are accused of committing offences punishable under Sections 376, 354, 354A, 506(i) of IPC by abusing their priestly position to force a married woman to return sexual favors. The court through Justice Raja Vijayaraghavan observed: “Prima facie, it appears that the applicants have acted as predators and they have taken undue advantage of the position of the survivor to their advantage.”
The crux of the prosecution case was that the first accused started sexually abusing the survivor from November 1999 on the pretext of marrying her. However, he married another woman in 2002. In 2005, the first accused met the complainant again and forced her to have a sexual relationship with him. The second accused is a vicar of a nearby church, before whom the survivor had revealed her relationship with the first accused during her ‘confession’ ceremony. It was alleged that the vicar sexually exploited her by blackmailing her that the confession statement would be divulged to her husband. The third accused, a senior of the survivor in college, is alleged to have sexually exploited her through blackmail using her morphed obscene images. The fourth accused is a counselor, before whom the survivor had disclosed her past. The fourth accused, though showed an affinity towards the survivor in the beginning, it is stated, during the course of time had sexually misbehaved towards her and had obtained sexual and monetary favour by forcing her to stay at a five-star hotel in Cochin.
In the meanwhile, the husband of the victim happened to stumble upon bills regarding the stay at the five-star hotel. On questioning, the victim narrated the incidents to her husband. Thereupon he laid a complaint against the accused before the church authorities. It is stated that some action was taken against the priests, however, the matter was not informed to the police. The police were informed about the matter much later and the same was leaked to media and a public furore was created.
The accused contended that the allegations were false and fabricated and that the much-belated complaint was filed only to tarnish the image of the accused and their institution. It was further contended that even if the allegations of the victim were assumed to be true, it will only reveal a consensual relationship between willing adults. Brushing aside the arguments of the accused, Justice Raja Vijayaraghavan observed: “The statement of the victim have been recorded by the learned Magistrate. The accused are all clergymen and serious accusations made by the survivor cannot be ignored as false or frivolous at this stage. They were in a position of dominance over the victim and by exploiting the said status, they are alleged to have sexually abused her. The victim in her statement emphatically asserted that the consent was not unequivocal or voluntary. On the other hand, she has given a graphic description as to how she was threatened and forced to succumb to the carnal desires of the accused. I find no reason to ignore her statement at this stage or to place reliance on Annexure-A1 which does not inspire confidence. The survivor has an explanation to offer to keep the incident under wraps.”
Dismissing the bail plea and terming the accused had acted as ‘predators’, Justice Raja opined: “Prima facie, it appears that the applicants have acted as predators and they have taken undue advantage of the position of the survivor to their advantage. From her version, it appears that the survivor has been systematically abused by the accused who all are closely known to the family members of the victim. The apprehension of the prosecution that the applicants would manage to tamper with evidence and influence the witnesses cannot be ignored, the investigation being in the preliminary stages. The reasonable possibility of the applicants managing to obstruct the course of justice, if released at this stage, cannot be brushed aside.”