Thiruvananthapuram: The family of a woman from Suryanelli in Kerala who was abducted and raped by 42 men almost two decades ago has alleged that the church where they pray has asked them to stay away.
"The priest told me, 'Now you are coming on TV channels regularly, your face is shown, people know you.' He advised me that it is better not to come to church for a period of time," said the father of the rape survivor.
"The Catholic church is for the poor. We will open our church anytime they (the victim's family) wish to come. Reports that say otherwise are wrong," Xavier Mammootil, parish vicar of the St Francis Xavier's Church, said to the Indo-Asian News Service.
Though he has a heart condition, the father of the rape survivor said he would change three buses to make sure he was at church every Sunday. His daughter never accompanied him. She leaves home only to report to work.
The family's lengthy battle for justice has been starkly lonely. Since her case was reported to the police in 1996, they have moved homes twice because neighbours taunted and insulted them. For her parents, the church offered solace and emotional sustenance.
The Suryanelli rape survivor has said that among the 42 men who raped her was Congress leader PJ Kurien. He was exonerated by the Supreme Court in 2007.
The woman says his political influence helped Mr Kurien, the Deputy Chairman of the Rajya Sabha, to escape a thorough police enquiry. She has been asking for him to be tried for rape since January, when the Supreme Court asked the Kerala High Court to try 35 men for her rape and deliver a verdict within six months.
34 of those men were acquitted by the Kerala High Court in 2005. The Supreme Court has set aside that order.