SC junks Kerala rape acquittals, orders HC to re-examine case

Supreme Court

The Supreme Court Thursday set aside the Kerala High Court verdict in the infamous Suryanelli case, by which 35 men accused of raping a 16-year-old girl from Suryanelli in Kerala in 1996 were acquitted.

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.

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