Delhi woman's loss, Suryanelli woman's gain

Kottayam, Feb 1 (IANS) Kerala might be amongst the most literate states in the country, but when it comes to empathy, it is far from being a leader. The fate of the family of the victim of the infamous Suryanelli sex case mirrors the callousness of society here.

The victim and her family has waited 17 years for justice, and has fought long and hard. Thursday, the apex court annulled the verdict of the Kerala High Court and ordered retrial of the case.

The huge huge public outcry across the country and the coverage in the international press following the Delhi girl's brutal rape Dec 16 has undoubtedly had a role in the recent turn of events in the Suryanelli case.

The Suryanelli case gets its name from the place from which the victim hailed, in Idukki district. The crime occurred Jan 1996, when the victim was only 16 years old. The girl was threatened, abducted, abused by a bus conductor, and brutally raped and treated as a pleasure object for a period of 45 days by 42 men.

She was then let off, asked to return home, given a small amount of money and threatened with dire consequences if she spoke of the crime.

The girl's father, a post master, got the shock of his life when the police initially refused to register a case; when the case was registered, it became clear that there were powerful forces working to prevent speedy delivery of justice.

Four years after the incident, a special court sentenced 35 accused to rigorous imprisonment.

In 2005, however, the Kerala High Court acquitted all but one of those earlier convicted by the special court.

The family of the victim -- her parents and sister -- have been ostracised by the local community, and live in isolation.

Both parents of the victim are now retired; the woman was granted a job by the then E.K. Nayanar government (1996-2001) in a state government establishment. Despite the memory of the trauma and the indifference of the local community, the victim has now managed to pick up the pieces and live with some dignity.

The first ray of hope came when, towards the end of last year, the apex court decided that it would take up, in early 2013, the appeal petition against the acquittal of all but one of the accused.

As the judgment was announced, a huge posse of media people rushed to get reactions from the family and the victim. The woman's father had warned her against offering comments to the media, and the woman refused to meet the media, staying within her office Thursday afternoon.

Media people returned empty-handed from the woman's office.

A source close to the victim told IANS that no one in her office seemed to know what a significant day it was for the peon, who continued to perform her routine tasks of offering tea and snacks to people at the office.

"When she took the bus home too, no one spoke to her even though co-passengers murmured about the judgment," the source said.

There was relief in the victim's home, though, where the woman's parents greeted her with a warm hug.

Incidentally, as the retrial begins, this would, in all probability, be the first case to be heard in the newly set up special court in the country to try cases involving women and children. The court to hear such cases in Kerala would open in Kochi Monday.

The apex court has asked all the 35 accused to surrender in three weeks, and move a fresh bail application in four weeks.

"At last, there is hope that justice delayed is not justice denied," says a source, describing the mood in the victim's home.

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