He was a 23-year-old mechanic by profession and she, a 21-year-old student at the BK College in Amalagiri in Kottayam district. Kevin and Neenu fell in love, and despite her family's opposition due to his caste and class, the couple registered their wedding. But a day later, he was kidnapped and his bruised and bloodied body was found floating in the Chaliyekkara river in Kollam on May 27, 2018.
The Kottayam Additional District Sessions Court is set to frame charges in the Kevin case after March 13, 2019. The prosecution is hoping that the court treats the case as one of murder, and sends a strong message against honour killing.
'Honour killing' or culpable homicide?
Over the course of the last few months, defence lawyers who have been appearing for Neenu's father Chacko (14th accused) and brother Shanu (1st accused) have pleaded against murder charges and said that Kevin’s death was not a case of honour killing. The defense claims a panicked Kevin fell into the river and drowned, so murder charges cannot apply on Neenu’s brother and others who kidnapped him.
However, Special Public Prosecutor CS Ajayan argues that Kevin's death was an honour killing as he was a Dalit Christian and Neenu's father a Latin Catholic. He also says the murder can never be passed off as a case of accidental drowning.
"The defence lawyers argue that only IPC Section 304 – culpable homicide not amounting to murder – would hold in the case. They claim Kevin tried to escape his abductors and died after drowning in the nearby river. There is no eye witnesses to prove whether he drowned, but there is circumstantial evidence to prove he was killed," Ajayan adds.
In the early hours of Sunday, May 27, 2018, Kevin and his cousin Aneesh were abducted by an armed 13-member gang of men from their residence in Kottayam. The gang, according to the police, included Neenu's brother Shanu Chacko who had arrived from the Middle East to plan the abduction, as well as others from her family. The duo was held hostage by the armed gang, in return for Neenu.
"It is learnt that Neenu's father held Kevin and Aneesh hostage to get Neenu back. If Neenu did not return to them, they threatened to kill them both," Ajayan says. Both Kevin and Aneesh were taken to an abandoned location near Thenmala in Kannur, hardly a few kilometres from Punalur, where Neenu's family lives.
"This is an abandoned area with no human habitation for 2.5 kms. One side of this place is thickly forested, while the other side had estates filled with rubber plantation. The Chaliyekkara stream too ran very close by," Ajayan adds.
It was here, when the two were being beaten up by the armed gang that Kevin jumped over a stone ridge, into a low lying area on the banks of the stream and off the road. In his attempt to escape the armed gang, he fell into the stream. Meanwhile, Kevin's cousin, Aneesh, who had witnessed the events until then, lost sight of Kevin. He subsequently managed to escape from the gang.
'Accidental drowning not possible in shallow stream’
Ajayan has told the court that the possibility of an accidental drowning is slim.
"The Chaliyekkara river where Kevin was found floating is only a stream. At the time of his drowning, it had shallow water which came up to the waist of a person of average height. Kevin was around 5'8," Ajayan says.
To back up this argument, Ajayan refers to medical journals which state the same.
"There are several medical textbooks and journals which state that drowning in shallow water could be a case of homicidal death. Besides, the deceased, Kevin, grew up by the banks of the Meenachil river. He's grown up knowing how to swim. How, then, can an 'accidental drowning' be possible?" he asks.
With a total of 14 accused in the case, the prosecution has pleaded to the Kottayam court to hear the case under IPC sections 302 (murder), 342 (wrongful confinement), 120 B (criminal conspiracy), 449 (house trespass in order to commit offence punishable with death), 364A (kidnapping for ransom) and 34 (acts done by several persons in furtherance of common intention).