Kerala gang-rape: SC sets aside HC acquittal order

Reconsider the case; pass order within 6 months

The Supreme Court on Thursday set aside the Kerala High Court’s order acquitting 35 accused in the Suryanelli gang-rape case, in which a 16-year-old girl was gang-raped for over 40 days in 1996.

A bench headed by Justice A K Patnaik asked the high court to reconsider the case and pass an order within six months. The SC also clarified that those acquitted will have to surrender before the high court in three weeks. However, they can seek bail from the high court.

The apex court was apparently shocked over the high court’s observation that the victim was a willing partner and did not attempt to escape.

Two among those acquitted have committed suicide.

The appeal petition against the high court order had been pending before the apex court for eight years. It was brought to the notice of the court recently by the counsels of the victim and the All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA), the women’s wing of the CPM. A bench headed by Chief Justice Altamas Kabir assured them that the case would be taken up in three weeks.

According to the prosecution, the girl from Suryanelli village near Munnar in Idukki district was abducted in January 1996 by a conductor of a private bus in which she commuted to school. The girl was then taken to various parts of Kerala where she was raped by 42 men.

On September 2, 2000, a special court, constituted exclusively for the case, awarded rigorous imprisonment for varying periods to 36 people.

The high court, however, found only one person guilty of sex-related crime and awarded him a five-year jail term, besides a fine of Rs 50,000. The other 35 people were acquitted.

The victim and the state moved the Supreme Court against the high court order in 2005. It was also alleged that a senior state Congress leader, now in Delhi, had also abused the girl. He was acquitted by the special court, high court and Supreme Court.

Veteran CPM leader V S Achuthanandan and various women’s organisations had relentlessly campaigned to bring the culprits to book.

The state government has given the victim a job. She is said to have been harassed by department authorities for remaining firm on fighting the case till the end.

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