Monday, 19 September 2016

For Soumya, Legal loopholes loosen the noose!

Soumya rape and murder case of Kerala that once again returned to national headlines last week following Supreme Court’s refusal to give death penalty to the accused — Govindachamy — appears to have entered another round of controversy. The rape and murder of Soumya on a railway track in Kerala in February 2011 had shocked the conscience of the nation. Even more shocking is that Govindachamy, the prime and only accused, has now escaped the gallows. The Supreme Court did not find valid the evidence that forced the sessions court to award capital punishment. He has been given life imprisonment which means he can even come out of jail after a few years. It is surprising that the apex court did not find it one of the rarest of rare cases where death penalty is the norm, not the exception.
The court's mind was obvious from the question a judge asked: Where is the proof that he pushed her out of the train?
The doctor who prepared the postmortem report listed the evidence to substantiate her point that Soumya did not jump from the train but was pushed out of it. Alas, her answers did not reach the court which went by the contradictory statements some witnesses made. That scientific evidence is more reliable than personal statements is well-known.

If in this particular case the court relied more on the loopholes in the verdict, the credit should go to the lawyer who pleaded his case. It is surprising that the lawyer who charges astronomical fees appeared for this petty criminal-turned-rapist! The verdict is also a pointer to the cavalier attitude shown by the Kerala government in defending the verdict. It engaged a new lawyer who did not know much about the case and he allegedly did not show much interest in gathering all the facts and figures to demand the highest punishment. The SC verdict has disappointed not just Soumya's mother, but millions of people. The argument that the prosecution will file a curative petition is unlikely to convince many as only in very rare cases do the courts accept such a petition. Even if it is accepted, the prosecution will have to show some startling new evidence, which is an impossible task. Establishment of mens rea (culpable state of mind) is a prerequisite for awarding the death sentence (“TN man escapes noose in Soumya rape, murder case”, Sept.16). Moreover, such a type of harsh punishment is awarded only in the rarest of rare cases. Lack of evidence vis-à-vis intention of murder on the part of the convict is what has led the Supreme Court to pass such an order. That being so, its order commuting death sentence to life sentence cannot be faulted. Above all, “an eye for an eye” cannot be the solution for all evils given the growing demand across the world for abolishing the death sentence. However, one cannot ignore the voices of a section who want the offence of rape to be made more serious and the quantum of punishment enhanced.
Rest in peace, Soumya!