The family of Suryanelli rape case victim can heave a sigh of relief that at last they got justice, though delayed, when the Supreme Court set aside the High Court order acquitting the accused in the case.
Of course, the family of Soumya, who was raped and murdered in a moving train, got justice faster when the sole accused was sentenced to death sentences within a short span of time. However, they too have to wait because the appeal filed by the convict is still pending before the High Court.
The Suryanelli case dates back to January 1996 when the girl was threatened, abducted and abused by a bus conductor, and brutally raped for a period of 45 days by 42 men.
A case was registered three years after the incident. A year later, a special court sentenced 35 accused to rigorous imprisonment. In 2005, the Kerala High Court acquitted all the accused except prime accused S.S. Dharmarajan. The E.K. Nayanar government during1996-2001 came to the aid of the victim and offered her a job as a peon in the Kerala Sales Tax Department.
The Supreme Court set aside the High Court judgment after finding force in the argument of the government counsel that the evidence in the first appeal had not been independently considered by the High Court. The Supreme Court Bench was of the view that the conclusion arrived at by the High Court might be true for one accused but might not be true for all the other accused.
The Bench ordered fresh hearing of the appeals and directed the court to dispose of them in six months. The Bench directed all the accused to file fresh bail applications before the High Court in four weeks and asked the High Court to pass appropriate orders uninfluenced by the orders passed by the Supreme Court.
Acquitting all the accused except one, the High Court in its verdict delivered on January 20, 2005 found that the special court did not consider the question whether there was manifestation of the alleged absence of consent on the part of the victim.
Virtually taking the special court to task for sentencing all the accused, the High Court bench observed: “One should not approach the question of acceptability of the evidence in an over-simplified manner - that the victim is a girl of tender age that is sixteen plus; that she has no reason to consent to sexual intercourse; that love, lust or money could not have persuaded her to consent; and that consequently she would not have consented.”
The special court was “too unsuspecting, non-cautious and willing in accepting victim’s evidence”, the High Court had observed. The High Court, while holding that there was consent on the part of victim, pointed out: “When a girl had gone out of the custody of parents for about 40 days and had been with several other persons, it cannot be said that her evidence regarding her unwillingness for sexual intercourse should be believed as such without insisting on satisfactory materials for assurance.
The other ground on which the High Court sought to set aside the conviction of all but one was that the victim did not escape from the custody of the accused though she had sufficient opportunity to do so.
“During the long period of 40 days she had been taken from place to place in public conveyances and she had been in lodges where others had also sought accommodation. She was also taken to hospitals twice but there was no attempt from her to escape from the clutches of any of the accused, including Dharmarajan”, the High Court had concluded.
The Suryanelli case dates back to January 1996 when the girl was threatened, abducted and brutally raped for 45 days by 42 men.