Supreme Court rejects pleas by rape survivor, convict to marry each other

  • Robin Vadakkumcherry Mathew was convicted in February 2019 and sentenced to 20 years in jail. The Vatican, too, defrocked him
A bench of justices Vineet Saran and Dinesh Maheshwari dismissed the petitions moved separately by the woman and Robin Vadakkumcherry Mathew. (HT archive)
A bench of justices Vineet Saran and Dinesh Maheshwari dismissed the petitions moved separately by the woman and Robin Vadakkumcherry Mathew. (HT archive)
Updated on Aug 03, 2021 02:51 AM IST
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By Utkarsh Anand, New Delhi

The Supreme Court on Monday refused to facilitate marriage between a woman and her rapist, a former Catholic priest from Kerala who is undergoing 20 years’ jail term for the crime committed on her when she was a minor.

A bench of justices Vineet Saran and Dinesh Maheshwari dismissed the petitions moved separately by the woman and Robin Vadakkumcherry Mathew.

Mathew was the vicar of St Sebastian’s Church at Kottiyoor in Wayanad district when the crime occurred. He was the manager of a church-backed school where the survivor, then a Class XI student, was studying. She got pregnant due to the crime and gave birth to a girl child in February 2017.

A childline agency that worked among schoolchildren met the survivor and she told them about her ordeal. Accordingly, they filed a complaint based on which a rape case was registered against Mathew. He was convicted in February 2019 and sentenced to 20 years in jail. The Vatican, too, defrocked him.

Citing several Supreme Court judgments that lay down that a rape case cannot be settled, the Kerala high court had refused to suspend Mathew’s sentence for marriage, saying that a judicial approval cannot be granted to a marriage when the woman he intended to marry is the one whom he had raped.

Against this order, Mathew and the survivor approached the top court, asking for bail to Mathew to enable him to come out and marry. While the woman emphasised that the marriage will give legitimacy to the child born to her, Mathew argued that the courts must not stop him from exercising his “fundamental right to marry”.

Senior advocate Kiran Suri appeared for the woman and advocate Amit George represented the former priest in the apex court. Suri said that the child was of school-going age, and hence the father’s name needed to be mentioned in the school admission application form.

On his part, George argued that the Kerala high court order made scathing and sweeping observations against his client, virtually foreclosing all possibilities for Mathew to walk out of jail even for a brief period. “How can my fundamental right to marriage be restricted while deciding a bail application?” asked the lawyer.

But the bench was unmoved. “You invited it yourself. The high court order is a well-reasoned order. It has made the observations after considering all aspects of the matter. We do not want to disturb the findings of the high court,” said the bench.

It also asked George about the age of his client and the survivor, and he said Mathew is 49 and the woman 25.

At this, the bench said that it would not interfere in a matter like this and that Mathew should resort to other remedies available to him under the law, including raising his grievances before the high court where his appeal against the sentence imposed by a special Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) court in 2019 was pending.

Mathew was arrested on February 27, 2017, from near Kochi international airport while trying to slip out of the country. He was sentenced to 20 years’ imprisonment on February 17, 2019 by a court in Thalassery after he was tried under the POCSO Act.

During the trial, the survivor and her mother turned hostile. But the trial court proceeded on the basis of evidence collected already and handed out the guilty verdict for Mathew. Mathew had also argued during the trial that the girl was impregnated by her own father. However, the DNA of the child, which clearly attributed paternity to Mathew, acted as a clinching piece of evidence, resulting in his conviction.

Four nuns, another priest and one more woman attached to the convent, who were made co-accused in the police chargesheet, were let off due to lack of evidence.

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Thursday, October 21, 2021