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Court of Injustice
|by Sreedevi Jacob|
Women's organizations in particular, and the public in general, are upset at the recent Kerala High Court verdict in the infamous Sooryanelli sex racket case.
The case, which dates back to 1996, relates to the sexual exploitation of a 16-year-old schoolgirl (from Sooryanelli village in Idukki district) by a number of men - including powerful politicians and businessmen. The girl (now 25) was abused by the men continuously for 40 days, between January 16 to February 26, 1996.
In 1996, Sanjana (name changed), a Class 10 student, became friendly with a bus conductor during her weekly trips from her home to her hostel, and one day ran off with him. The bus conductor, after sexually exploiting her, sold her to another man, and the chain grew. Over the next few weeks, she was raped repeatedly by (a total of 39) men who took her to different places in Kerala. Within 40 days, she apparently travelled 4,000 miles. Finally, the girl became sick and her exploiters sent her home, after threatening her with dire consequences if she revealed anything.
The incident acquired media attention when the girl's father went to court seeking justice in 1996. A senior police officer, well-known for his honesty and efficiency, was put in charge of the case and a special court was set up by the government in Kottayam to try the accused in 1999. Out of the 39 persons accused in the case, 35 were convicted by the special court in 2000. But in February 2005, the Division Bench of the Kerala High Court, consisting of Justice K A Gafoor and Justice R Basanth, exonerated all but one of the accused, an advocate who arranged most of the meetings with the girl.
While delivering the judgement, the court said that the girl had "ample opportunity" to run away from her abductors, if she wanted to, while being taken across the state. The court said, as she was often travelling by public transport, she could have managed to escape.
This remark of the court has been criticized by many people. Leela Menon, veteran journalist, who was one of the first to report about Sanjana's case, says, " This makes us feel there is no human face to the judiciary. I got to know the girl pretty well." She adds, "The bus conductor who managed to get the girl's family photo album, threatened her that if she did not go with him for a tour, he would create naked photographs of her and circulate them. The scared girl left her home with Rs 300 (1US$=Rs 45), which she had stolen from her father. When she returned home after 40 days, medical reports said her vagina was full of pus." (After the girl returned home, for several days she could not walk. She had to be carried to the bathroom.)
"How can any one imply that the girl enjoyed her ordeal when she was taken around the state, and which is why she did not try to escape?" asks Menon. "As far as I know, the girl was too naive, and definitely did not enjoy her trips."
The Left Democratic Government, which was in power when the issue hit the headlines, got the girl a job in the post office. But the current United Democratic Front government has not shown any sympathies so far. Chief Minister Oommen Chandy recently said that the government was "in no hurry" to take the case forward. His statement has given credence to the view that the government wants to bury the issue as it involves several politicians.
Nine years after the incident actually happened, Sanjana's family members are still in a state of turmoil. Speaking to Prasanna, an activist and journalist, the Sanjana's mother broke down after hearing the verdict. "Sooryanelli, like many other places in Kerala, has become a tourist spot now, and people stop by our house and point to it as `the house of the Sooryanelli girl'."
"The verdict has shocked the entire family," says Prasanna. "They were relieved when the special court convicted the accused, but the recent verdict by the high court has pushed them into despair again."
The victim's mother says that their ordeal began when they revealed the name of a powerful Congress politician, P J Kurian, who has been a Member of Parliament and a former Union Minister during the investigations. "We were offered a lot of money to withdraw the case, but we stood by what we said in court," she told Prasanna. Another concern for the mother is that her daughter has put on a lot of weight and continues to do so. Her periods are irregular, and because of stigma, she does not go to a gynecologist. However, she continues to work.
Sthree Chethana, a collective of activists, lawyers and media persons, recently held a meeting to discuss steps to be taken on the issue. And Sthreevedi, a women's group, has decided to support the girl in filing an appeal in the Supreme Court against the Kerala High Court verdict. Advocate Anila George, who fought the case for the victim in the high court, says "There may be some lapses in the investigation. We are studying the verdict, and once that is done, we will be drafting our appeal to the Supreme Court."
In Kerala, where sex rackets involving young girls (mostly from poor families) are regularly exposed, some fear that the recent verdict does not augur well for society. "There has been no understanding of the condition of the violated girl in this verdict," opines Menon. "The men who were accused have gone scot-free, and the young woman, who suffered, has actually been punished," she adds. "The fact that a minor girl was exploited by 39 people in such a short period, says there is something drastically wrong with our society. We find that there is growing demand for children as sexual objects, obviously showing the increasing number of pedophiles in the state."
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Comments on this Article
S. N. Vijayan
10/11/2012 08:51 AM