I want my name back
The victim in the Suryanelli rape case tells her story—a nightmare that lasted 40 days and the trauma that stayed with her every day for the past 17 years
She is the 'Suryanelli girl'. "But that's not my name." It's not. It's the name of the village in Kerala's Idukki district where she lived a 16-year-old's life—happy, innocent, smiling easily. She doesn't smile easily anymore, but then, a lot more has changed since that day in 1996 when she was "trapped" by a bus conductor, the beginning of a 40-day nightmare during which she was taken all over Kerala and to parts of Tamil Nadu, raped and mutilated by 42 men. It has been a long fight, during which the case has seen several twists and turns, but she is determined to fight on. "Society denied me my name the day the case came to light. I want my name back. My fight is to get back that right," she says, sitting with her parents at their house in Kottayam district.
The two-bedroom house is where the family moved to from Suryanelli to escape the prying eyes of the public and its open sniggers and comments. The case had become one of the biggest sex scandals in Kerala, bringing in its fold former Union minister (and now Rajya Sabha deputy chairman) P J Kurien. As the case lingered on for 17 years and with the Supreme Court now asking the High Court to re-examine the case, the public gaze only got harsher. But all along, she stuck to her case, never dithering, never changing her statement.
It's painful to recall, but she insists on remembering, for that's part of the fight to "reclaim my name".
In 1994-95, she came to Suryanelli in Munnar, a hill station in Idukki, to live with her family—her mother worked as a nurse with a plantation company and her father worked as the postmaster. Until then, she had studied at a residential school in Kottayam district and now, she joined class 8 in an English-medium residential school in Munnar. She would take a bus, the same bus, from the family's tea estate quarters to school and back. It was a beautiful ride through sloping tea plantations and mist-covered hills. It was during these rides that she befriended Raju, the conductor.