Supreme court scraps Govindachamy’s death penalty

legal-newsThe wait for the judgment in the rape and murder of Kerala native Soumya is over, with the Supreme Court setting aside the death sentence of Govindachamy. The judgment was pronounced by a Bench comprising Ranjan GogoiPC Pant and UU Lalit JJ. Advocate BA Aloor appeared for Govindachamy, while Senior Advocate Thomas P Joseph appeared for State of Kerala.

The Court had reserved its judgment in the case on September 8, with Gogoi J observing that though the offence of rape stood proved, the murder charge was based largely on circumstantial evidence.

By way of background, Govindachamy, a one-handed beggar was accused of raping and murdering the victim who was travelling in a women’s coach on the Ernakulam-Shoranur passenger train. The prosecution case was that Govindachamy attacked Soumya and pushed her out of the slow-moving train. He then jumped off the train, carried the injured woman to a wooded area near the track and raped her. She later succumbed to her injuries.

Approving the death penalty awarded by the lower Court, the Kerala High Court had classified the rape and murder “among the rarest of rare cases in which the lesser alternative is unquestionably foreclosed.”

However, when the matter came up for hearing before the Supreme Court, the court had observed that the charge of murder under Section 302 has not been proved beyond reasonable doubt.

“Insofar as the offence under Section 376 is concerned, it is reasonably clear to us that it has been proved. However, as far as the charge under Section 302 is concerned, it is mostly circumstantial… not proved beyond reasonable doubt”, Justice Gogoi had remarked.

The judgment today has reaffirmed this view. The Court reasons that the death of the victim occurred due to two major injuries, the repeated banging of the head against the compartment of the train and the injury sustained due to the violent fall from the train. While the Court accepted that the former injury was easily attributable to the accused, it did not feel similarly about the latter.

Holding that it could not disregard the evidence of the eye-witnesses who saw the woman jumping out of the train in an attempt to escape, the Court stated that,

“..unless the fall from the train can be ascribed to the accused on the basis of the cogent and reliable evidence, meaning thereby, that the accused had pushed the deceased out of the train and the possibility of the deceased herself jumping out of train is ruled out, the liability of the accused for the said injury may not necessary follow.”

The court also discussed the act of the accused in keeping the victim in a supine position which had contributed to the death. It held that the intention of the accused while keeping the deceased in a supine position was to commit sexual assault and an intention to cause death cannot be attributed to the accused.

“…to hold that the accused is liable under Section 302 IPC what is required is an intention to cause death or knowledge that the act of the accused is likely to cause death. The intention of the accused in keeping the deceased in a supine position,… was for the purposes of the sexual assault. The requisite knowledge that in the circumstances such an act may cause death, also, cannot be attributed to the accused..”

Therefore, the court held that the accused cannot be held liable for the injury caused as a result of falling from the train. Similarly, in keeping the deceased in a supine position, intention to cause death or knowledge that such act may cause death, cannot be attributed to the accused.

Consequently, the accused was acquitted of the charge under Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code, which was altered to one under Section 325 for causing grevious hurt. The death penalty now stands scrapped. The conviction under section 376 for rape has, however, been upheld.

SOURCE AND CREDIT: BAR & BENCH

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