The Kerala High Court held 24 accused persons in the Suryanelli rape case guilty in its judgment on Friday. The prime accused Dharmarajan, who was a lawyer at the time of commission of the offence has been given life imprisonment and others were given rigorous imprisonment ranging from 3 to 13 years. Out of the total 31 accused persons, 7 were acquitted by the Court for want of evidence. The rape survivor, a minor during the period, was initially abducted by a bus conductor Raju, the first accused and then later on handed over to several persons who continuously raped her over a period 40 days.
The charges involved kidnapping, wrongful confinement, rape, gang rape, wrongful concealment, selling minor girl and other related provisions of Indian Penal Code. The bench comprised of Justice KT Sankaran and Justice ML Joseph Francis of Kerala High Court held that there is nothing to suggest that the act took place with the consent of the girl. Also, there seems to be nothing unnatural in minor variations in the girl's later statement as compared to the first. The argument of the defence that the girl did not try to escape during the period of 40 days was rejected by the court.
The case has a long history and interesting twist and turns. As early as in September 2, 2000, the trial court at Kottayam had convicted a total of 35 of the accused to undergo sentences of various terms from 4 to 13 years. The Trial Court had acquitted four persons. The accused is drawn from various sections of society, businessmen, advocates, railway employees, brokers, mechanic, policeman, drivers, conductors, professors, clerks, coolies, farmers, nurse and a lady pimp.
The court held that the rape survivor was 'threatened and terrorized by Dharmarajan, the prime accused. When trial started, Dharmarajan absconded. His case was separated and he faced trial later. Though he was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment in 2001, in his appeal, a division bench of the high court had, on January 20, 2005 modified his sentence to 4 years of rigorous imprisonment from life imprisonment. All the accused were acquitted by the High Court in the earlier round on the ground that the girl had consensual sex with the accused, which attracted much criticism .
Appeals were filed in the Supreme Court against this acquittal and the Court in 2013, set aside the High Court judgment, by a bench consisting of Justice A.K.Patnaik and Justice Gyan Sudha Mishra. The case was sent back to the High Court for fresh disposal. This judgment by the High Court is welcomed as a final relief to the victim.