Zee Media Bureau/Ritesh K Srivastava
Thiruvananthapuram: A division bench of the Kerala High Court on Friday convicted 24 people in the 1996 Suryanelli gang-rape case.
Responding to various appeals filed by the accused in the case, the bench also awarded a life term to Dharmarajan - a key accused in the case – and sentenced others to 4-13 years in jail.
The division bench, while pronouncing its verdict, said that there was no reason to disbelieve the statement given by the survivor.
The quantum of sentence was pronounced by the division bench comprising Justice KT Sankaran and Justice ML Joseph Francis.
The case relates to the abduction and sexual exploitation of a minor girl hailing from Suryanelli in Idukki district by several persons in 1996. The prosecution case was that the schoolgirl was enticed, abducted, and sexually exploited by a bus conductor on January 16, 1996.
She was later handed over to two others, including the prime accused Dharmarajan who was a lawyer by profession. The girl was taken later by them to various places and presented to several men.
The prosecution claimed that the girl was raped 67 times by 37 different people during the 40 days from January 16, 1996, to February 26, 1996. As many as 35 accused were sentenced to rigorous imprisonment for varying terms from 10 years to 13 years by the Kottayam Special Court on charges of rape, gang rape, and kidnapping.
However, the High Court had acquitted all the accused except Dharmarajan.
The case took a high profile turn when the girl alleged that one of her rapists was Rajya Sabha Deputy Speaker PJ Kurien. However, the court refused to make Kurien an accused in the case thereby rejecting the survivor`s plea.
After serving a brief jail term, Dharmarajan was freed on bail but never returned to prison and his whereabouts were unknown till he resurfaced in February when the Supreme Court, acting on an appeal by the Kerala government, reversed the State High Court verdict and asked it to consider afresh the appeals filed by the accused.