Thiruvananthapuram: It seems, the death of Delhi’s valiant rape victim was not in vain. The Delhi tragedy and the collective anger it ignited have inspired the Supreme Court to resume hearing in the Suryanelli rape case, which has has been pending with it since 2005. The case reached the SC after the girl’s family and the state prosecutor filed an appeal against the Kerala High Court’s verdict, which had acquitted 34 of the 35 convicted by the trial court.
The plight of the Suryanelli victim is a shocking demonstration of how the system can turn against the victim. The girl was in her ninth grade, just 14 years old, when she was lured into an affair with a checker in a private bus. Threats and blackmail followed. Two years later, the hapless girl was transferred to the checker’s accomplice, a pimp named Usha.
She, in turn, handed the girl over to S. S. Dharmarajan, an advocate. And then, with Dharmarajan playing the host, began a beastly parade where 40-odd men raped the girl by turns and without let for 42 days. There were days when she fell unconscious. Doctors who had examined her had testified that her private parts were so ruined that a mere touch in these areas would induce blood. When further violation meant death, she was asked by her captors to go home.
In 2000, a special court sentenced 35 accused to rigorous imprisonment and let off four. But the High Court, in an extraordinary verdict that cast aspersions on the morality of the 16-year-old victim, acquitted all 34 except Dharmarajan who was given a lesser punishment.
The victim now resides with her parents and two elder sisters in a godforsaken place Kottayam, far away from the gaze of the public and her Suryanelli home near the Munnar hill station. The family had no choice but to abandon their home. It had become a must-see spot for tourists visiting Munnar.
“We never had the money to pursue the case further in SC. Later, the support of women’s organizations emboldened us to take the case further,” said the victim’s father, a retired postmaster from Munnar who jas undergone bypass surgery and is suffering from a slew of illnesses.
It was easy to trample upon the dignity of the Suryanelli girl as she was the 'fallen girl', no less than the High Court had said so. In 1999, when she was offered a last grade job in the Sales Tax department in Kottayam, it seemed that she would at least be allowed to go on with what has been left of her life. But the search for a semblance of normalcy was short-lived when she was framed in a money swindling case in 2011 and suspended from work for eight months.
These tribulations have steeled her and her family. Her mother, 71, a retired nurse, has written to Congress president Sonia Gandhi seeking the removal of Rajya Sabha deputy chairman P.J. Kurien from office. All these 17 years, the girl had stuck to her stand that Kurien was one of the persons who had brutalised her.
“My fight has been going on for the last 17 years. Though I am tired and wretched with illnesses, I will fight as long as I can,” said the victim, now a 33-year-old lonely woman shunned even by her colleagues at work. But it is a fight she seems to have already lost. Recently, a senior in her office tried to misbehave with her. She lodged a complaint. But the Special Investigation Team set up under a woman IPS officer to check crimes against women could not take up the case. They are waiting for her cases to settle down.
"Rape victims suffer persecution at various levels. To begin with, there is the rape itself. Society shuns the victim and the family. This sets in motion a self-perpetuating canard that the victim is of loose moral character. The unsympathetic attitude of the police and the investigating agencies worsens their plight. The functioning of the judicial system is very slow. The government should make all courts into fast track courts. India needs 60 judges per million, and with our current population and the increase in the number of crime and rape cases, we have to increase the size of our judiciary by five times." - Colin Gonsalves, senior lawyer in Supreme Court and founder-director of Human Rights Law Network, New Delhi
"There are thousands of pending rape cases before the lower courts and Supreme Court. It is obvious that rape cases get inordinately delayed due to political pressure. This is so huge that it can never be comprehended. The delay in settling the cases is dangerous in that it gives rise to a collective societal tyranny which ostracises the victim and her family. Society and the government should be held responsible for such a sad denouement. I feel that rape cases should be put before the Fast Track Courts so that the perpetrators of the crime can be brought to justice at the earliest and the agony of victims’ families put to rest." - Dr Ranjana Kumari, Women’s activist and Director of the Centre for Social Research in New Delhi