NEW DELHI: In a landmark judgement, the Supreme Court today set aside a Kerala High Court verdict acquitting 35 men accused of raping a 16-year-old girl from Suryanelli in Kerala in 1996.
The apex court said the high court did not look at the evidence properly and directed that the case be re-judged again within six months.
The minor girl was abducted in January 1996 and raped by 42 men over 40 days and moved from place to place in Kerala, she was then told by the perpetrators to return home and keep mum.
Three years later, the tormented girl mustered the courage to talk of her experience, and the names of the high and mighty appeared as a special court named 35 accused and sentenced them to rigorous imprisonment.
On September 6, 2000, the trial special court convicted 36 people and sentenced them to rigorous imprisonment of varying terms. The Kerala High Court, however, acquitted all 35 convicts earlier and found only one of them person guilty of crimes related to the sex trade and sentenced him to five years jail term and a fine of Rs 50,000.
In 2005, however, the Kerala High Court acquitted all but one of those earlier named as accused.
The victim's family and the state moved the Supreme Court in 2005 against the high court's verdict.
All the accused on bail have been directed by the Supreme Court to secure fresh bail from the high court. The Supreme Court also expressed shock over the findings of the high court that the victim was a willing partner.
An appeal against the high court verdict has been pending at the apex court for eight years. On January 10, Chief Justice of India Altamas Kabir had assured that the Suryanelli and other pending cases of sexual offences would be fast-tracked.
The family of the woman now lives near Kottayam, and are treated by the local community as outcasts. The woman also suffers health-related issues on account of her 40-day ordeal 16 years ago.
On 6 February 2012, the police arrested the Suryanelli case victim in connection with an alleged financial irregularity case. The case pertains to the charge that the victim had engaged in multiple financial irregularities worth Rs 2,26,000 while working in the Sales Tax Department, Changanassery in 2010.
The irregularities had surfaced during auditing, after which she was placed under suspension. Later she was given a 'punishment' transfer to Kottayam where she is now employed.
She was produced before a court in Changanassery which remanded her to judicial custody. It was alleged that as her case was coming up for hearing in the Supreme court, vested elements had set her up.