"Had we known of the controversy, we would not have permitted PJ Kurien to speak at the side event," say the organisers of Women Deliver conference

With twitterati in India launching a tirade against Rajya Sabha deputy chairman P.J. Kurien’s presence at an international conference on women underway here, the organisers of Women Deliver on Wednesday said they were unaware of charges against him.

In a statement issued here, Women Deliver said it took issues of violence against women and rape very seriously.

“We were unaware that Mr. Kurien is facing allegations of rape. While we cannot comment on the specific allegations, had we known of the controversy, we would not have permitted him to speak at the side event. Addressing violence against women is central to our mission as an organisation and one of the focus areas of this global conference,” the statement said.

Mr. Kurien, who is facing charges of rape, is also chairperson of the Asian Forum of Parliamentarians on Population and Development, which had invited him to speak at the Global MPs Conference, held as a side event at the Women Deliver conference.

As the word on Mr Kurien’s participation spread, social media overflowed with condemnations. Women activists lost no time in writing to UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi and the Prime Minister demanding Mr. Kurien’s removal as chairperson of the Rajya sabha.

Mr. Kurien’s case involves gang rape of a minor girl at Suryanelli in Kerala. The victim has alleged that she was raped by 42 men over 40 days and one of them was Mr. Kurien. In 2005, the Kerala High Court tried 35 men — Mr. Kurien was not among them — and acquitted 34. This order was recently set aside by the Supreme Court following which there have been demands for Mr. Kurien’s removal.