The Supreme Court on Thursday commuted convict Govindachamy’s death sentence to 7 years in the infamous Soumya murder case. The court altered the murder charge (IPC 302) to grievous assault charge (IPC 325). However, it upheld the Kerala High Court’s order awarding him a life term for the offense of rape.
As a result, Govindachamy will serve a life sentence.
"We are of the view that not only the offence under Section 376 IPC was committed by the accused, the same was so committed in a most brutal and grotesque manner which would justify the imposition of life sentence as awarded by the learned trial Court and confirmed by the High Court," the SC said.
Though initially media reports (including TNM) had said that the death sentence had been commuted to 7 years, LiveLaw broke the news in the evening that Govindachamy will serve life term for the rape charge.
Expressing her disappointment over the SC verdict, Soumya’s mother termed it a painfully gross miscarriage of justice. She told the media that the prosecution had failed to convince the court of the graveness of the crime.
She had expressed disappointment over the prosecution’s inability to prove the murder charge.
Responding to the verdict, Senior advocate Shivan Madathil told Manorama News that the question of whether Soumya jumped on her own or Govindachamy had pushed her off the train was not relevant, as the fact remains that Soumya was raped. "Though I don't advocate that SC should have up held up the death penalty, I cannot agree with this verdict, Shivan Madathil said.
"Though I don't disagree with SC quashing death penalty, seven years is too less a punishment, as it is the minimum punishment for this crime," prominent social commentator and lawyer Advocate Sebastian Paul told Manorama News. "The verdict has failed to do justice to Soumya's family," Sebastian Paul added.
Meanwhile, speaking to the media, defense counsel Advocate BA Aloor termed the entire investigation a biased one, right from the start: "This was a prejudiced and pre-decided investigation. The people of Kerala wanted this man to be punished. But the truth unraveled in front of the Supreme Court. The SC was convinced that there was no murder charge here. The prosecution was only able to prove that Sowmya was sexually assaulted. Prosecution in such cases needs to have strong evidence; they simply cannot foist a case on anyone like that."
In an unexpected turn of events on September 8, the Supreme Court had asked Kerala police if there was any evidence that Govindachamy, a convict in the infamous Soumya murder case had indeed pushed her off the train.
The Kerala High Court in December, 2013 had upheld a fast track court’s decision that Govindachamy had robbed and pushed 23-year-old Soumya, a native of Shoranur, off the Ernakulam-Shoranur passenger train on February 1, 2011. She was raped and murdered. Soumya’s body was found by Railway police near a railway track, she succumbed to her injuries at the Government Medical College in Thrissur on February 6.
The top court said that it was the prosecution’s task to convince the bench, and observed that the court was not a ‘place of guesswork’.
The court’s observation came while hearing a petition filed by Govindachamy against his death sentence. The convict had claimed in the top court that the victim Soumya had herself jumped from the train.
"The court is convinced that Soumya was raped. The court also understands that she died due to head injury. However, it should be clarified whether Soumya was pushed from the train or whether she herself jumped from the train," the Supreme Court said.
According to media reports, the lawyer appearing for Kerala government did not have a reply for this question.
The trial court had given him death sentence after the prosecution proved its case that after pushing Soumya off the train, Govindachamy jumped off the train, raped and murdered her.
The High Court Bench of Justice T R Ramachandran Nair and Justice B Kemal Pasha had called it a rarest of rare case and pronounced that all necessary evidence including circumstantial evidence was sufficient enough to prove that Govindachamy was Soumya’s murderer. The court also said that it was not expected “to shut its eyes and close its ears” to the cries of society for justice.
Twenty-three-year-old Soumya who worked as a salesgirl, was returning home by Ernakulam-Shoranur passenger train on February 1, 2011. Govindachami 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 Govindachami pushed her off the train, then took her to the wooded area, and raped and murdered her.