The order in the Suriyanelli gang-rape case was passed by a special bench, comprising justices K T Sankaran and M L Joseph Francis while delivering the judgement on appeals filed by the accused.
The Kerala gang-rape victim, who was a minor at the time, was taken to various places in Kerala and Tamil Nadu by the accused, travelling about 3000 km during a 40-day ordeal when she was raped by over 40 persons, before being released on February 26, 1996.
There were 36 accused in the case, of which five had died during trial. Seven accused were acquitted by the bench, constituted to hear the pleas afresh, today.
The court awarded sentences varying from five to 13 years and fine to the 23 accused.
The first accused, Raju, a bus conductor in Idukki and second accused Usha, were awarded 13 years RI for procuring the minor girl and giving her to the other accused.
The bench rejected the views put forth by the accused touching on the character of the victim. Their contention that the girl did not make any attempt to escape from their custody was also turned down by the court.
The court said "she was in a trap, she was terrorised and threatened by Dharmarajan."
The bench, while upholding the sentence awarded by Sessions Court at Kottayam, rejected the plea of the accused that the victim was 'deviant', and that she could have escaped during her captivity.
The Suriyanelli gang-rape case girl had stated that she fell in love with Raju and had eloped with him and had pledged her gold ornaments.
"So it cannot be said that she is a 'deviant' girl," the judges observed.
The court also said she had not left her home out of lust or for money. "There is no material to prove such allegations," the judges observed and rejected the allegation that the victim was a 'child prostitute'.
Expressing its anguish on the increasing rate of crime on children and women in the state, the judges said this shows the state of affairs.
"Rape causes destruction and murder of physical body of the victim," they said, fully justifying the findings of the trial court.
The court had in 2005 acquitted all the 35 accused in the case and reduced the life sentence awarded to Dharmarajan, who was tried separately, to five years imprisonment on appeals filed by the accused.
This was challenged by the state government and the victim in the Supreme Court, which directed the court to constitute a new bench to hear the appeals afresh.
The bench was constituted in February last year.
Dharmarajan, who was absconding, was arrested from Sagar in Karnataka on February 15 last year after he appeared on a television channel.
The case relates to the abduction and sexual exploitation of a minor school girl from Suriyanelli in Kerala's high range Idukki district by several persons in 1996.
The judges said there was no embellishing in the evidence of the victim which runs to 598 pages and it was totally accepted. "There is material to show that her evidence is true. She was mercilessly and brutally raped," the court held.
The prosecution case was that the girl, who was studying in school, was enticed, abducted and sexually exploited by a bus conductor, Raju, on January 16, 1996.
The girl was later handover to two others-- Usha and Dharmarajan, who is a lawyer.
The minor girl was then taken to various places in Kerala and Tamil Nadu was raped by over 40 persons.
Reacting to the judgment, the victim told television channels that she was happy with the verdict.