New Delhi:  The Supreme Court on Thursday set aside Kerala High Court's order acquitting 35 accused in the Suryanelli gangrape case of 1996 in which a 16-year-old girl was gang-raped for over 40 days.

A bench headed by Justice A K Patnaik sent the case back to the High Court for taking a fresh look at it.

The court passed the order on an appeal filed by the State of Kerala challenging the acquittal of the accused in the case.

The Kerala High Court had acquitted 35 persons who were convicted by a special court in September 2000.

The High Court had found only one person guilty of crime related to the sex trade and had sentenced him to five years in jail and a fine of Rs 50,000.

The girl from Suryanelli in Idukki district of Kerala was abducted in January 1996 and was transported from place to place across Kerala.

The Apex Court on January 3, this year had decided to hear the appeal against the acquittal of the 35 accused in the gang rape case on an urgent basis within three weeks.

The bench had given the assurance after it was brought to its notice that the appeal against the high court verdict had been pending in the apex court for the last eight years.

Girl's parents, leaders hail verdict

Meanwhile, the parents of the girl, political leaders and women rights activists have hailed the Supreme Court order.

"We thank God. Our prayers for justice have been heard," the girl's father said from Idukki district.

Her mother said she and her husband were grateful to all those who helped them in their prolonged pursuit of justice.

CPI(M) veteran and former chief minister V S Achuthanandan, who has taken the initiative in helping the parents of the girl to pursue the case, said he was happy that justice had been delivered though it came a bit delayed.

In a statement here, the 88-year-old leader said he would continue his struggle for justice to victims in similar cases.

P K Sreemathy, leader of CPI-M's women wing AIDWA and a former minister, said the apex court verdict in the Suryanelli case could be considered as a landmark order to be followed by courts in trial of sexual exploitation cases.


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