Kottayam (Kerala): Sitting near the dining table in a small house in Kerala's Kottayam district, a 33-year-old woman recounts how, when just a school girl, she was kidnapped and then raped by 42 men in 40 days.
"They would take me to different places when I would be asleep. I was tortured, my hands would be tied, they would kick and trample over my legs. I was studying in school, I couldn't understand what to do. I was scared of their torture," she says.
That was in 1996. Since then, she has shared her story countless times. With policemen, courts, reporters. Over the last few days, the re-telling has become crucial.
For seven years, she waited for the Supreme Court to take up her case. When it did, at the end of January this year, the shift was powerful. The Supreme Court set aside a Kerala High Court order from 2005, which acquitted 34 of 35 men accused of raping her. The Supreme Court asked for a retrial and a verdict within six months of the Suryanelli rape case, named after the area that the woman belongs to. And she reiterated the allegation that among the powerful men who allegedly raped her in 1996 was PJ Kurien, Congress leader and the Deputy Chairman of the Rajya Sabha.
It should be noted that Mr Kurien was exonerated by the Supreme Court and multiple investigations by the Kerala police. But the woman says his political standing manoeuvred an exit for him. After she was abandoned in Tamil Nadu after her gang rape, she managed to find her way home. One day, she says, "My mother was reading a column in a Malayalam newspaper. When I just had a glimpse, I saw a large photo of Mr Kurien and that's when I told my mother that he raped me."
She denies that her campaign against him is linked to his political opponents who say that based on her charges, Mr Kurien must be removed from office.
"No party has forced me to take PJ Kurien's name. I have been repeatedly telling the police from the beginning that PJ Kurien raped me in the Kumli Guest House. Nobody has forced me to take his name, neither any association nor any politician," she says.
Mr Kurien's party, the Congress, has said that whether he will continue as the Deputy Chairman of the Upper House will be decided before Parliament meets on February 21 for the Budget session. The gang-rape survivor's mother, in a letter to Congress president Sonia Gandhi, has said it would be a travesty for Mr Kurien to chair discussions on new anti-rape laws introduced by the cabinet which need to be cleared by Parliament.
The woman has tears in her eyes, but her voice is steady. "I want to live," she says. "The only reason that I have been fighting for 17 years without giving up is that this should not happen to any other girl."