Over four years ago, a Malayalam actress was sexually assaulted in a vehicle, allegedly by men hired by popular actor Dileep.
Following the allegations, Dileep was charged with abduction and harassment, and the incident sparked a furore in the Malayalam film fraternity, with actors like Parvathy standing up strongly against Dileep.
In February 2019, the Kerala High Court appointed a woman judge to hear the sexual assault case and nearly two years later, the trial is still delayed and deemed as ‘partial’.
On Monday, the high court reserved orders on the petitions seeking transfer of the judge currently hearing the case to another judge.
The survivor had approached the high court asking that her case be shifted to ‘any other court’ as the judge Honey M Varghese had allegedly ‘facilitated’ the harassment by Dileep’s lawyers.
The survivor’s counsel had told the court that she didn’t have any trust in a free and fair trial.
‘Trial Court Judge Not Fair’
The public prosecutor representing the Kerala government too, backed the survivor’s concerns and urged the high court to shift the case to another court immediately.
“There were many occasions in the last 11 months in which I cried inconsolably inside the special court room, unable to withstand the harassment and character assassination unleashed by lawyers representing the eighth accused [referring to Dileep. Though the judge was a woman, she remained insensitive on all such occasions and facilitated the attack under the guise of cross-examination which lasted for more than five hours,” the survivor said, as narrated by the counsel in court, reported HuffPost.
The survivor had also complained that the trial court had not restricted the number of lawyers for the accused present inside the court and so Dileep could showcase his power of intimidation with his battery of lawyers. The survivor was allegedly harassed for over 10 days by Dileep’s lawyers with ‘questions that were irrelevant and pertained to her conduct,’ Senior Advocate Sreekumar said, reported HuffPost.
The counsel had clarified that they would not insist on having a woman judge.
Several times in the past, the prosecution has pointed out that the survivor and witnesses were under pressure and threat from the accused. The state had also alleged that the attitude of the trial court and the lawyers representing the accused was not in the best interest of the state and the victim.
The trial court judge was accused of not protecting the witnesses and the victim from the trauma created in the cross-examination and even on social media.
Witnesses Have Turned Hostile
A key witness had confirmed to the court intimidation from people close to Dileep.
Four key witnesses in the case have backtracked from their earlier statements which implicated Dileep.
The actor has even obtained a gag order preventing media organisations from reporting on the trial.
Being an influential actor and producer who has worked in the industry for decades, he has been accused of being instrumental in distancing the actress from the film industry and ensuring she doesn’t get any work opportunities.
The survivor, along with her supporters, quit the Association of Malayalam Movie Artists (AMMA) in June 2018.
In the same year in October, the actors' body at its executive committee meeting agreed to end Dileep's membership from AMMA as he has been facing trial.
The Manju Warrier Disclosure
On 2 November, the state government told the Kerala High Court that the Additional Special Sessions Judge did not record a disclosure of Manju Warrier, who is one of the key witnesses.
The Malayalam actor Manju Warrier is the former wife of the accused Dileep, who had made certain important revelations about the crime which was reportedly ignored by the court.
In the petition, accessed by The New Indian Express, the state told that on 27 February 2020, when she was examined, she had admitted that her daughter had requested her not to depose anything against her father. The actress told that she did tell her daughter that she was bound by law to speak the truth but her disclosure was reportedly not recorded by the Special Judge.
“During the rehearsal session of a stage show by cine artists at Abad Plaza, Ernakulam, in 2013, the eighth accused had told actress Bhama that he would burn the victim alive as he had understood that the victim was instrumental in the break-up of his first marriage. The victim stated that the actress had conveyed this to her. But the trial court declined to record this testimony stating that it’s only hearsay. Despite the specific request of the prosecution that it needed to be recorded for corroboration, the court refused,” said the state counsel.
Dileep’s Daughter Files Complaint
Meanwhile, Meenakshi Gopalakrishnan, Dileep and Manju Warrier’s daughter, filed a complaint on 28 October against Facebook pages of a few Malayalam entertainment portals. An FIR has been filed based on her accusations that these pages have published defamatory content with the intention of defaming her father.
A case has been registered under section 120 (o) (causing, through any means of communication, a nuisance of himself to any person by repeated or undesirable or anonymous call, letter, writing, message, e-mail or through a messenger) of the Kerala Police Act.
(With inputs from The New Indian Express, HuffPost)