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Hailing from Suryanelli village near Kerala's Munnar hill station, the girl in 1994-96 got acquainted with the conductor of a private bus, named Raju. Previously a student of a residential school in Kottayam, she shifted to Little Flower School in nearby Nallathanni when she entered Class IX and often took this bus to her new school.
Raju, who would later become the first accused in the case, pretended to be in love with the girl. On January 12, 1996, he allegedly went to her school and forced her to come away with him on a trip, blackmailing her with the help of a family photo album of hers that he had managed to get from her classmate.
On January 16, under Raju's pressure, she took a bus in which he, too, reportedly travelled to downtown Adimali, and then changed buses for Kothamangalam. Somewhere during the journey, Raju, who was sitting away from the girl, got off the bus.
The first assault
Unknown to the girl, a woman named Usha was travelling in the same bus and keeping a close watch on her. Investigation would later prove that the bus journey was part of the conspiracy.
It was when the bus reached Kothamangalam at 8.40 pm that the victim realised Raju was not with her. As she could not return home that late in the night, the girl decided to go to her relative's house in Kottayam.
Usha reportedly got on the same bus as her for Kottayam. When they reached Kottayam, the girl developed cold feet about going to that relative's home, and decided to catch a bus to Mundakkayam, where another relative lived. However, there was no bus to Mundakkayam at that hour.
It was then that Usha reportedly approached the girl, calling her by name and introducing her to a "Sreekumar" who, she said, would take her to Mundakkayam.
He took her to a lodge, saying his mother was staying there. At the lodge, he allegedly raped her in the night. Sreekumar was later identified as Advocate S S Dharmarajan.
By that time, the girl's distraught father had lodged a complaint with the police that his daughter had not returned home from school.
Next day in the evening, the Munnar police registered a missing case, but did not make any earnest effort to track down the girl.
40 days of forced sex
On January 17, a day after the alleged assault in the lodge, Dharmarajan took her to Kochi by a bus. She was lodged in a city hotel for a day, and then taken to Kumali, Palakkad, Kozhikode, Aluva, Muvattupuzha, Kottyam in the state, and Theni, Kambam and Kanyakumari in Tamil Nadu, where she was reportedly raped by different men.
The police believe she was taken around 4,000 km during this period, from one hotel to another, city to city, and forced to have sex with strangers. On two occasions, she was allegedly raped by two persons simultaneously.
While she was kept locked, there was no reported attempt by the girl to escape or to seek help from other people whom she met while on the road. Twice, she was taken to hospital. She developed injuries in her vagina as well as pain on the back of her hip. But she was reportedly plied with pills and liquor to keep her subjugated.
Her return home
Towards the fag end of the 40-day captivity, the girl became too weak to be taken to customers. Her pelvic infection had become worse and she could not walk.
On February 26, she was reportedly put on a bus to her native place. She landed at the office of her father, a Central government employee, and narrated what had happened to her.
The father took her to a local police station, setting off a legal battle that would go on for 17 years.
The probe and trial
Amidst allegations about a bid to torpedo the case, a Crime Branch team was formed on March 18. On July 6, a special team, led by DIG Siby Mathews, took over the probe. As many as 40 persons were arraigned as accused.
On December 19, 1998, the CPM government decided to form the state's first special court for Suryanelli case. The trial began on November 16, 1999, more than three years after the girl was reportedly first raped.
Chargesheet was framed against 40 accused. While the investigators had concluded that 45 people were involved, two could not be traced.
Of the remaining 43, one was removed from the list of accused and two remained absconding. One of them, Dharmarajan, who reportedly first assaulted the girl, was arrested later.
Of the 40, one died during the trial while accused 23, 26, 32 and 36 were acquitted. On September 6, 2000, the special court sentenced the remaining 35 to rigorous imprisonment for different terms on charges mainly dealing with kidnapping, wrongful confinement, procuration of minor girl, rape and gangrape.
Among the convicted was Congress leader Jacob Stephen. First accused Raju and second accused Usha got RI of 13 years each, apart from an additional jail term of four years.
Dharmarajan, who was caught on September 17, 2000, was given life term on July 13, 2002, after a special trial. In the meantime, the fourth accused committed suicide after the verdict and the 40th accused died during the trial.
The P J Kurien angle
On March 26, 1996, the girl saw the photograph of P J Kurien (Congress leader and then Union minister of state) in a daily and identified him as one "Banji" who had reportedly raped her at the Kumali guesthouse on February 19.
Her father told this to a local circle inspector, who abused him and sent him away. Later, the father petitioned Chief Minister E K Nayanar of the CPM for help.
The police probed the complaint, but concluded that it was physically impossible for Kurien to have been at the guesthouse on February 19 as he was far away from there that evening.
On March 15, 1999, the family moved a private petition in a magistrate's court at Peerumedu in Idukki, seeking a probe into Kurien's role. The court examined four witnesses who had stated that Kurien was at the guesthouse that day.
The court found "sufficient ground for proceeding against Kurien based on the evidence".
Summons were issued to Kurien, who moved the high court and got the magistrate court proceedings quashed on April 4, 2007.
In the same year, the CPM government moved the Supreme Court against the relief to Kurien from the high court. On November 17, 2007, the Supreme Court upheld the high court verdict.
The high court trial
On January 20, 2005, the Kerala high court acquitted all the accused except Dharmarajan in an appeal moved by the accused.
Dharmarajan's jail term too was commuted to five years.
The high court's reasoning for this was that the girl was a willing party to the assaults.
"This court has found that the allegations of rape are totally unbelievable." It cited the testimony of the doctor who, it said, had examined the girl and stated that there was no sign or evidence of resistance — though it was not a conclusive factor to determine her consent.
"Even in the wake of the unfortunate plight of the victim, the trauma of parents, the court cannot lose its poise and be swayed. Objective and critical analysis is the unavoidable duty of the court," said the Bench of Judges R Basant and Abdul Gafoor.
The case goes to SC
The Kerala government filed an appeal against the acquittal of the accused on May 11, 2005, saying the high court order was based on wrong notions of law and lent credence to evidence in another case that could not be considered in this one.
The appeal remained pending for seven years till, after the Delhi gangrape case, Chief Justice of India Altamas Kabir directed expediting hearing of all sexual assault cases.
The Bench concerned subsequently heard the case on a day-to-day basis.
On January 31, 2013, almost exactly to the day 17 years ago that the girl had been picked up, the Supreme Court set aside the acquittal, saying it relied on inadmissible evidence. "How can it (implied consent by the girl) be? We can understand consent for one man but for so many persons?" it said.
The high court was directed to re-examine the matter in light of established legal principles and pronounce a fresh verdict within six months.
The bail orders of the accused were annulled and they were asked to furnish fresh bail bonds before the high court.
She works as a peon with the state sales tax department, a post given to her by the CPM government of 1996-2001.
The victim told The Indian Express that she would continue to fight till all the accused are punished. "The Supreme Court verdict has given much relief. I want to see Kurien punished for the assault committed on me. We have no financial or political clout to take on such an influential person. The Supreme Court intervention was Godsend," she added.
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