At the end of a water-logged lane is a narrow path that leads to Joseph’s house in Nattassery, Kottayam. He stands there, telling media persons that he has nothing to say. The Kottayam Principal Sessions court has on Wednesday, adjourned the verdict on his son Kevin’s murder case to August 22. Joseph who had gone to court every day when the case was being heard, decided not to go this day – August 14 – when the verdict was supposed to be pronounced.
“I didn’t want all the unwanted chaos around me again,” he says. He had thought the verdict would come today. But the court has sought more clarity to decide whether Kevin’s murder was a case of 'honour killing'.
Kevin was 23 when he was kidnapped by the family of Neenu, the young woman he was in a relationship with. The two of them had just applied to get married at a register office when Kevin was abducted from his cousin Aneesh’s house. His body was found in the Chaliyakara canal near Thenmala, where Neenu’s house is. Neenu’s brother Shanu and her father Chacko are the first and the fifth accused in the case.
On Wednesday, though judge C Jayachandran of the Kottayam Principal Sessions court was expected to pronounce the verdict, he wanted to hear the opinions of the prosecution and the defense on Kevin’s murder being a case of 'honour killing'. The prosecution asserted that it was. “There was a WhatsApp message from the prime accused Shanu to the witness Lijo – a neighbour of Neenu’s family – that said Shanu would kill Kevin. Lijo also spoke of two phone calls from Shanu, one saying Kevin was a pulayan (Dalit) and another saying he has killed Kevin,” says CS Ajayan, special prosecutor of the case.
Ajayan also points out Neenu’s statement. “On May 25, Kevin and Neenu were called to the police station. At the station Neenu’s father said that he would get them married. But Neenu has later stated that she knew even then that her dad was lying because he and her brother had earlier said that she should not marry a pulayan. Both Lijo’s and Neenu’s statements show that there was clear racial prejudice against Kevin and it is a case of 'honour' killing.”
Kevin was a Dalit Christian and Neenu, stated that her father and brother had told her not to marry a ‘pulayan’ (Dalit caste).
The case was first heard at an additional sessions court which said that it would consider Kevin’s murder as an incident of 'honour killing'. Judge KG Sanal Kumar, in November 2018, had asked to fast track the trial and said that the proceedings should be completed in six months. However, Sanal Kumar was later transferred to vigilance court, and the case was shifted to the principal sessions court where judge C Jayachandran would hear the case.
Ajayan says that it is not unusual for the judge to seek time to clarify doubts before writing a judgment. The judge also asked the prosecution to submit the judgment copy by a Supreme Court bench comprising judges Markandey Katju and Gyan Sudha Misra in 2011 that described 'honour killing' as the "rarest of rare" cases and said that it deserves the death penalty. “All persons who are planning to perpetrate ‘honour’ killings should know that the gallows await them,” the judges said.
It would therefore be crucial on the part of the defense to prove it is not a case of 'honour killing'.