It was on January 16, 1996 that a bus conductor in the plantation village of Suryanelli abducted a 16-year-old girl and after sexually assaulting her, handed over her to an advocate, S.S. Dharmarajan, and his accomplice, Usha.

The two took her across the State and handed her over to many others. After sexually exploiting her for 40 days, the abductors sent her back with some money and a stern warning not to open her mouth.

The girl, terrorised and seriously ill, returned home on February 26.

Soon, the political rivalry in the ruling United Democratic Front started reflecting in the case, as the net widened. The final investigation was conducted under the leadership of the then Inspector General of Police Siby Mathews. The legal and procedural formalities contributed to a long delay.

In 1999, the State set up the first special court to try cases of sexual assault in Kottayam.

Of the 42 accused, 39 were brought before trial. One Devasyachan could not be traced, and Dharmarajan went absconding. Another died.

On September 6, 2000, the special court sentenced 35 of the accused to rigorous imprisonment.

Dharmarajan was arrested on September 17, 2000. On July 12, 2002, the Special Court sentenced him to life imprisonment.

The High Court acquitted the 35 convicted and found Dharmarajan guilty only of sex trade and the sentence was reduced to five years.

Dharmarajan, who was on bail, again went absconding and remains untraced.