Though the court found that it was a case of caste killing, Neenu’s father Chacko, the fifth accused in the case, was acquitted.

Justice for Kevin 10 including wifes brother found guilty of murdering Dalit man
news Caste Killing Thursday, August 22, 2019 - 11:26

A year and three months after 23-year-old Kevin Joseph’s dead body was found floating in the Chaliyekkara canal in Kollam, ten accused in the case have been found guilty of murdering him. Kevin, a Dalit Christian man, was abducted on May 26, 2018 by Shanu Chacko, the brother of his wife Neenu. Kevin was found dead two days later on May 28. Shanu, the prime accused and nine others were found guilty by Principal Sessions Court of Kottayam Judge C Jayachandran. The judge will pronounce the quantum of the sentence on Saturday.

Shanu was enraged that Neenu had decided to marry Kevin and had abducted him along with his cousin Aneesh, from the latter’s home in Mannanam, just a few kilometres from Kevin’s house. Shanu and the others have been found guilty of IPC section 364 A (Kidnap and threaten to kill), Section 302 (Murder) and other relevant sections. However, Neenu’s father Chacko, the fifth accused in the case, was acquitted by the court. Three others too have been acquitted by the court. It is believed that since Chacko was not directly involved in the crime, the prosecution could not prove his role. 

Judge C Jayachandran, who had been instructed by the Kerala High Court to finish the trial in six months, had heard the case every day. On August 14, the Judge wanted to hear the opinions of the prosecution and the defence on Kevin’s murder being a case of 'honour killing'. 

After listening to both sides, the court has found that Kevin’s murder was indeed an 'honour killing'. Neenu’s father is a Latin Catholic and mother, Rehna, is a Muslim, while Kevin’s family are Dalit Christians.

This makes this the first 'honour killing' or 'caste killing' conviction in Kerala. This is crucial as this means the accused can get death penalty for the crime. “All persons who are planning to perpetrate ‘honour’ killings should know that the gallows await them,” says a judgment by Supreme Court bench Markandey Katju and Gyan Sudha Misra from 2011.

For Kevin’s father Joseph, who went to court every day, and for Neenu, it has been a tough and emotional battle. Kevin and Neenu applied to register their marriage on May 25, 2018 and he was kidnapped within a few hours. A few days after Kevin’s death, Neenu’s father had approached the court saying she was mentally unstable. He had wanted her shifted to a shelter home, away from Joseph and his family.

The judgment also comes as a big victory for the prosecution that had to battle money power and intimidation. While there were reports of witnesses being intimidated, five out of the 113 witnesses turned hostile during the trial. Moreover, during one of the hearings, all the accused came dressed in similar clothes in a bid to confuse the witnesses.

A turning point in the case came on June 3 when forensic experts from Thiruvananthapuram told the court that Kevin had been forcibly drowned to death. The initial medical report had only said that he was drowned to death and the accused had argued in court that there was no case of murder, but only of kidnap.

“This is a clear case of homicidal drowning. The victim, Kevin, was conscious during the time of his death and seems to have struggled while he was drowning,” Dr K Sashikala, a professor from the Department of Forensic Medicine in Thiruvananthapuram Medical College, told the court. The contention of the forensic expert that the water in the Chaliyekkara stream only came up to Kevin’s knees and so he could not have drowned accidentally had strengthened the prosecution’s case.

Kevin’s cousin Aneesh Sebastian (the prime witness), Aneesh’s elder brother Jossan J (second witness), Neenu and others had deposed before the court and had not wavered in their statements.

Read our special coverage: Why the Kevin murder trial is a landmark in the battle against casteism in Kerala

Controversies and police inaction

When Kevin went missing in May, Neenu had gone to the police station. However, the sub-Inspector at the Gandhinagar Police station refused to accept the complaint and dismissed Neenu saying that they were busy on bandobast duty as Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan was in the district that day. Later, a phone conversation between another police official and Shanu was leaked. Under fire, the Chief Minister suspended the SI and transferred Kottayam SP Mohammed Rafeeq. While accused number two Niyas was a member of the DYFI, Shanu was accused of being a Youth Congress member a few years ago.

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