Former priest, Robin Mathew (L) was convicted by a trial court in Kerala last year for the rape of a minor girl while he was a Vicar
Former priest, Robin Mathew (L) was convicted by a trial court in Kerala last year for the rape of a minor girl while he was a Vicar

Social activists seek impleadment to oppose rape convict ex-priest's plea before Kerala HC for suspending sentence to marry victim

"If the Appellant secures relief at this stage citing his desire to marry the victim, it will open the door for many such men who commit rape or aggravated sexual assault", states the impleadment application.

Two social activists have moved the Kerala High Court seeking to be impleaded to oppose the plea filed by former priest Robin Mathew to suspend his 20-year prison sentence on the ground that he wishes to marry the woman he had raped while he was a Vicar (Robin Mathew v. State of Kerala).

In 2019, a trial court had sentenced Mathew to 20 years' rigorous imprisonment for the raping the victim, who was a minor at the time.

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The Court had issued notice earlier this month in Mathew's plea for the suspension of his sentence for two months so that he could marry the victim and make arrangements for obtaining joint custody of her child.

The impleadment application in this case has been moved by George Pulikuthiyil, a member of NGO Jananeethim and Brinelle D'Souza, founder of Voices Against Sexual Abuse in the Church (VASAC). The application states,

"This case represents a deep malaise in society, and once again unmasks the ugly reality that spiritual places, religious institutions and persons holding significant positions often abuse and exploit their power and authority to sexually abuse and exploit young, vulnerable women and girls, and use their institutional social and cultural position and influence to defeat the ends of justice."

The offence committed by Mathew has shocked the public consciousness and the gravity of the offence has widespread societal ramifications, the applicants state further.

As such, it is contended that Mathew's plea to suspend his sentence for marrying the victim is a "shocking and devious attempt to subvert the ends of justice, defeat the mandate of POCSO, undo decades of Supreme Court jurisprudence on rape, and abuse the process of Court."

"The subterfuge being attempted by the Appellant (Mathew) in camouflaging the interest to avoid his stay in prison as a sign of love must not be allowed to pass, as the same would be a mockery of justice."
Application filed in Kerala HC

The applicants challenge Mathew's assertions that he has intense love for the victim, as a "scheming tactic to overwhelm the judicial process."

In this regard, the applicants state that the case records would show the complete disregard shown by Mathew for the victim and her child up until the prosecution's case against him became watertight. It is stated in the application,

"Despite having knowledge of the pregnancy, at no point prior to the trial did the Appellant make any efforts to denounce ecclesiastical life and marry the victim."
"It is plain to see that the expression of intent to marry the victim and care for the child is not borne out of love or care, but is a malicious, desperate and devious attempt to reduce or escape penal liability, and amounts to abuse of the process of court to subvert the ends of justice. "
Application filed in Kerala HC

It is further argued that Mathew has substantial influence over the victim and her family. It is pointed out that even when the case was being investigated, the victim had given false statements to the police that the rape was committed by her father and not Mathew.

During the trial, the parents of the victim had also deposed falsely to protect Mathew from punishment, the applicants highlight. Moreover, it is stated that Mathew had earlier used his clout to try and separate the child from the victim immediately after birth, in order to conceal the crime and shield himself.

The applicants go on to raise concern that if Mathew were to be released from prison on the ground of wanting to marry the victim, it would set a bad precedent.

"If the Appellant secures relief at this stage citing his desire to marry the victim, it will open the door for many such men who commit the offence of rape or aggravated sexual assault to force or coerce their victims into a compromise in order to escape the rigours of law. Such practices have been categorically looked down upon by the Hon’ble Supreme Court, and must not be encouraged in any judicial proceeding or stage."
Application filed in Kerala HC

This aspect is also argued from the viewpoint of powerful men in religious circles abusing their authority to commit rape.

" if the Appellant escapes his just desserts it would have a bone chilling impact on other women and girls who are victims of such offences, by men hiding behind religious cloaks. These exploitative power structures ought to be dismantled by the rule of law and not fortified by it, which is more reason why the Appellant’s application ought to be dismissed."

"The malaise within the Church runs deep", the applicants state, urging the Court to not allow the subterfuge attempted by Mathew in the name of marriage.

While seeking their impleadment in this case, the applicants have also urged that the Court act to protect the victim's rights and secure her future, in light of the guiding principle under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act that her best interest should be prioritised.

"The victim, being a minor at the time of the offence, is in need of economic, emotional and mental support, as well as protection and care, which the State must extend to her, to ensure that she is not vulnerable to any intimidation or overtures being made by the Appellant. It is reported that the victim is presently pursuing her studies outside the State of Kerala, and the machinations of the Appellant threaten to jeopardise her future, yet again."

The application has been filed through Advocate P Chandrashekar. Advocates Vrinda Grover, Soutik Banerjee and Ratna Appnender drafted the impleadment plea.

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