An apex court bench led by Justice A K Patnaik held that the order of the high court, passed in 2005, was legally and technically flawed, since it had relied on certain inadmissible evidence while acquitting the accused.
The Supreme Court directed the high court to re-examine the matter in the light of established legal principles and pronounce a fresh verdict within six months. The court also annulled bail orders in favour of the accused and asked them to furnish new bail bonds before the high court, to be examined afresh.
In January 1996, the then teenage girl from Suryanelli in Kerala’s Idukki district was abducted and allegedly raped by 42 men over 40 days. She was taken from place to place in the state, and was eventually abandoned across the border in Tamil Nadu.
On September 6, 2000, a trial court convicted 36 people and sentenced them to rigorous imprisonment of varying terms. The high court overturned the order, acquitting 35 accused, and sentencing only one to five years in jail. The Kerala government’s appeal in the Supreme Court remained pending for nearly seven years until, in the aftermath of the Delhi gangrape of December 16, 2012, Chief Justice of India Altamas Kabir directed that hearings in all cases of sexual assault be expedited.
In Kerala, the victim’s mother, a retired nurse, described the apex court order as divine intervention, but said it had brought back memories of the incident and the unwelcome, humiliating public attention that the case had attracted.
“We see the court order as the beginning of the delivery of much-delayed justice. It is God’s intervention. We are happy, although the reopening of the case has made us a subject of public attention again. We have not managed to escape the mental trauma for even a day since our daughter went missing,” the mother said.
The family of four — the girl, her parents and elder sister — had moved from Suryanelli near Munnar in Idukki district to Kottayam a few years ago to escape the humiliation that the case had brought.
“Our house in Suryanelli was on the way to a tourist spot, and people started stopping in front of the house. Local taxi operators and guides pointed out our house to them. My elder daughter, who then worked as a nurse in the Gulf, said she would not return unless we moved. So we had to sell our newly-built house and one-acre cardamom farm at a throwaway price and we move to Kottayam,” she said.
The girl, whose education ended at class 8 after the ordeal, was given the job of a peon by the state government. However, on February, 7, 2012, she was arrested for allegedly misappropriating department money, which led to her being remanded in judicial custody for a week, and suspended from her job for eight months.
“Certain forces tried to implicate my daughter in a false case after the appeal was moved in the Supreme Court. Those forces wanted to show that my daughter was not honest, and thus weaken the case. She was arrested while going to office, 100 metres from home, and taken away like a terrorist,” the mother said.
The suspension order was recently withdrawn and the victim was transferred to another office.
The mother said that the extended family and their friends had abandoned them after her daughter was abducted. The elder daughter had stopped working for several years, but had been persuaded three months ago to join a hospital in Karnataka, she said. “She has developed scorn for life itself, and is totally averse to the idea of getting married.”
The question of marriage for her younger daughter did not arise, the mother said. “Who will come? Will you find a person who will be magnanimous enough to offer a new life to my ravaged daughter? And even if someone comes, how can we believe him? The four of us will hold on to each other until our deaths.”
The Supreme Court on Thursday frowned on the high court’s suggestion that what happened with the victim had been with her implied consent. She had not raised an alarm despite ample opportunities, the high court had said.
The Supreme Court disagreed. “How can it be? We can understand consent for one man but for so many persons? We don’t subscribe to this suggestion,” the bench observed.