A day after 14 of the 17 accused in the Ayanavaram child rape case approached the Madras High court seeking trial by a different judge, Special Public Prosecutor ED Ramesh tells TNM that this appeal is merely an effort to delay the case. The accused have alleged that the Mahila court judge RN Manjual is "conducting the case as media trial and hurrying it up for the best reasons known to her".
In a petition submitted to the High Court on Thursday, the counsels for the 14 accused have presented 14 arguments for the case to be transferred to another judge. These include allegations like lack of fair trial for the accused, conducting the trial in a hurried manner, curtailing of the rights of the petitioners, lack of timely delivery of application copies and most importantly allowing the victim to sit with a witness during examination. The petitioners further allege that the court could very well reject the entire trial and suo moto pass final orders in this case instead of projecting that the entire trial is conducted.
Countering these allegations, the special public prosecutor says, "How is this a media trial? It is not the judge who speaks to the media. And by law, a POCSO case has to be completed within a year. And the child has to be examined and cross-examined within a month of the chargesheet being filed. It has been seven months since the case was filed and a month since the case began. So the judge's tentative schedule which ends in February is fair by all means. Such a sensitive case cannot be stretched on indefinitely but this is exactly what these advocates want. They know that the accused will definitely be convicted because of the strong charges against them."
The main allegation of the petitioners, one that they have complained at length about is the presence of the victim's sister while she was being examined. They have further alleged that the 11-year-old girl was prompted by her sister.
â€śDuring the chief (examination) the sister (name withheld) kept prompting the victim about thrice and the counsels for the accused kept objecting to the same. The prompt was heard by the victim and she answered as per the prompt and the same was recorded (as the victimâ€™s statement by the court),â€ť read the petition filed by the counsel of the accused in the Madras High Court. They have even accused the Special Public Prosecutor of 'putting words in the mouth of the victim, which is abuse of process of law'.
The SPP, however, clarifies that having her sister or another trusted adult with her during examination was the survivor's right.
"After the child said that she wanted her sister with her, we examined the older girl. After that she was also cross questioned," says advocate Ramesh. "Then when the child was giving her statement, the video of it was recorded. Following these allegations, we have even checked this video. There are no instances of her being prompted. And frankly, what will her sister get out of making this child lie to the judge about the abuse?" he asks.
In terms of his alleged interference, the SPP says he asked the judge for permission to present questions to be asked to the child, but the judge denied it.
"The judge has been very fair so far," says the SPP. "This petition is coming to court on Monday and will be quashed hopefully."