On February 1, 2011, Soumya, a resident of Shoranur in Palakkad district was found on the railway track near Vallathol station. She died five days later on February 6 after battling for life in hospital.
You can read the timeline of the case here.
The Supreme Court on Thursday commuted convict Govindachamy alias Charly’s death sentence to 7 years in the offense of murder. 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.
What went wrong and why was the prosecution unable to prove murder charges?
Soumya’s mother Sumathi believes that changing A Suresan, the prosecutor who fought the case in the Fast Track Court and the High Court had proved to be a set-back.
She alleged that the special prosecutor had failed to convince the court that Govindachamy had indeed murdered her daughter.
What does the judgment say?
“It is the case of the prosecution that the victim was dropped/pushed by the accused from the running train to the track and that the side of her face hit on the crossover of the railway line.
The accused appellant also jumped down from the other side of the running train and after lifting the victim to another place by the side of the track he sexually assaulted her. Thereafter he ransacked her belongings and went away from the place with her mobile phone.”
Soumya had two injuries.
Injury no 1 were 4 or 5 wounds on the head that was caused by slamming her head repeatedly against a flat hard surface. Forensic expert Dr.Sherly Vasu noted that this injury could have been caused by slamming Soumya’s head on the train’s wall. This injury made her dazed and incapable to respond says the forensic report.
Injury no 2 was sustained from beneath the left eye upto chin bone. This injury was sustained when she fell from a height of 5 to 8 feet. The forensic report says that the train must have been running on a negligible speed and the injury was caused by the face gliding on the surface of a rail. And since Soumya was already dazed from the previous injury, her reflexes were low and she was unable to move her face away.
The judgment by Justice Ranjan Gogoi, Justice Prafulla C. Pant and Justice Uday Umesh Lalit however says that there was not enough evidence to prove that Govindachamy was responsible for injury no .2. In simple terms the court was unconvinced that he had pushed her out of the train.
The judgment notes that Soumya’s death was caused by ‘a combination of injury no.1 and 2, and 16 complications arising therefrom including aspiration of blood into the air passages resulting in anoxic brain damage’. The court noted that the rape keeping her face upwards could have caused the blood aspiration.
The court also pointed out that the fact that Soumya ‘survived for a couple of days after the incident and eventually died in hospital’ shows that Govindachamy alias Charly did not have an intention to cause death.
Taking into account the position during rape and the fact that she had survived the assault for five days, the court rules that the accused was not liable for injury no 2.
Forensic expert disagrees
Forensic expert Dr.Sherly Vasu, who conducted Soumya’s post-mortem alleged that the prosecutor had failed to prove the murder, despite there being enough evidence.
Speaking to The News Minute, she said,
“Two points in our reports clearly point to the fact that he had indeed pushed her off the train. One, that she had 6 wounds on the top left part of her head, that can only be caused by repeatedly hitting on a surface. Such wounds can never be caused by falling off a train. Second, Soumya’s broken hair clip and 2 of the convict’s shirt buttons were recovered by our team from inside the train. This indicates that he had attacked her inside the train."
Sherly said that she finds it suspicious that the prosecutor had not once approached her before the hearing.
“I feel this is a result of an ego issue,” Sherly alleged.
Saying that there was no mistake from the part of the prosecution, Kerala Law Minister AK Balan told reporters that as the only two witnesses in the case were not present in the same train compartment as Soumya and Govindachamy, it was difficult for the prosecution to prove whether Govindachamy pushed Soumya off the train.
The two witnesses had said that they saw Soumya falling off the train, but was unsure whether she was pushed off or she jumped on her own.
Though senior High Court lawyer Udaya Bhanu feels that the prosecution did fail in proving the murder charge, he maintains that the apex court has raised a valid point.
“Just because the lower courts had awarded him death sentence, does not mean that the apex court would automatically uphold the verdict. What we need to also consider is whether the previous verdicts had overlooked this crucial element of proving the murder charge,” the senior lawyer said.
He added that the debate over the court reducing the quantum of punishment was unreasonable as the prosecution had also failed to prove the murder charges.