“Could you arrange a tea and vadai for me,” was the first sentence uttered by Govindachamy after the Thrissur Fast Track court pronounced capital punishment after convicting him for the rape and murder of Soumya.
Twenty-three-year-old Soumya who worked as a salesgirl, was returning home by Ernakulam-Shoranur passenger train on February 1, 2011. Govindachamy went to the ladies’ compartment where she was, robbed and attacked her. Soumya’s body was found in the forests near Vallathol railway station.
The prosecution’s case was that Govindachamy pushed her off the train, then took her to the wooded area, and raped and murdered her.
Soumya’s rape and subsequent death left Kerala shocked as it gave a name and a face to a deep fear among many women and men, that of sexual assault and murder.
Police acted quickly. The day after the crime, a pastor came forward and told the police that he had noticed a one-armed man pass by his compartment into the next, which was a ladies’ compartment. He went to the police saying that he had heard the cries of a girl.
Perhaps this led to the swift arrest. Police found Govindachamy within 48 hours. Apart from the fact that he is handicapped and hails from Virudhachalam in Cuddalore, very little is known for certain about Govindachamy.
Govindachamy, then 30, was convicted of rape and murder on October 31, 2011, and sentenced in November by a Thrissur fast track court. The court ruled that the case was fit to be called as the rarest of rare, and pronounced capital punishment for murder. Subsequent appeals in the Kerala High Court also upheld that Govindachamy had raped and murdered her.
The Supreme Court, however, held that the prosecution could not prove whether Govindachamy had pushed her off the train or whether she fell off. Hence, it held that he was not guilty of murder, but grievous assault. The death sentence for murder, has been commuted to seven years, while the life imprisonment for rape still stands.
In the time between his arrest and conviction in 2011, several disturbing and bizarre developments occurred, which many feel, should have been investigated by the police. It was claimed that he may have links with the underworld, but the police never explored these leads.
However, what is clear is that Govindachamy has been in and out of prison for several years before he attacked Soumya. A Tindivanam court convicted him of house-breaking in 2004 and a Kadalur court in 2005. He was convicted of house robbery by courts in Erode (2006), in Tambaram and Thiruvallur (2007), and Salem (2008).
For Soumya’s mother Sumathi who has fought a long and emotionally draining battle for justice, perhaps it matters little whether it was the prosecution’s failure or the defence’s success. Her daughter’s rapist is going to serve just 16 more months in jail for the crime.