On February 1, 2011, Soumya, a resident of Palakkad district in Kerala was found severely injured on the railway track near Vallathol station. She succumbed to her injuries and died five days later on February 6, after battling for life in hospital.
Soumya had boarded the Ernakulam-Shoranur passenger train on February 1, 2011, at about 5.30 pm from Ernakulam Town railway station to go to her home. Seeing that there were no other passengers in the ladies compartment, Charley Thomas aka ‘Govindachamy’ entered the coach and assaulted Soumya by repeatedly hitting her head on the walls of the compartment. According to the prosecution, the victim was pushed by Charley from the slow-moving train on to the track, after which he also jumped down from the running train. The police contended that Charley , a habitual offender, then sexually assaulted Soumya.
Originally convicted of rape and murder, and awarded the death sentence by a Thrissur Fast Track Court, Charley Thomas appealed his case in the Kerala High Court and the Supreme Court. While the HC upheld the sentence of capital punishment, the SC commuted the death term for murder charge to seven years imprisonment and gave life imprisonment for rape, saying that the bench was not convinced that the convict had ‘intention’ to cause murder because the victim survived for a couple of days after the incident and eventually died in hospital.
There are various aspects of the case, which are covered as follows :
Does survival for a few days mitigate the brutality of the assault given the fact that the victim actually died ?
As per this report by The News Minute, Forensic expert Dr. Sherly Vasu, who conducted Soumya’s post-mortem alleged that there was enough evidence to prove that it was a murder.
She spoke to The News Minute, and quoting from their news report :
“Soumya 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.”
This statement itself indicates the brutality of the assault along with rape. The fact whether she jumped off the train or was pushed comes later. Even if she just fell off or jumped on her own, this was probably to save her life. She was instigated to do it – the fact that the assaulter didn’t leave her alone post her resisting attempts should be reason enough to understand that he was hell bent on violating her even at the cost of her life.
Even from the legal point of view, Ex Judge of Supreme Court, Justice Markandey Katju has expressed his views on this case on his blog ; quoting him :
“From the evidence on record it appears that Soumya had two sets of injuries. Injury no.1 were the injuries she got inside the ladies compartment in the train, and injury no.2 were those she got by falling off the train.
I have already said that even regarding injury no.1 by itself, the accused Govindachamy was guilty of murder, since he repeatedly hit Soumya’s head on the wall of the compartment, which was sufficient in the ordinary course to cause death. The head is a vital part of the body, and is not like a leg. So catching the hair of a woman and repeatedly hitting her head against a wall is sufficient in the ordinary course to cause death. This was a case clearly covered by the Third Part of section 300. So the Supreme Court erred by acquitting the accused on the charge of murder.
However, we may also consider the matter regarding injury number 2. The Supreme Court held in paragraph 16 that it cannot be held that the accused pushed Soumya off the train, and she may have jumped off it herself.
Paragraph 16 of the judgment reads :
” 16. In this regard, the learned counsel for the State has referred to injury No.1 sustained by the deceased, as deposed to by P.W.64, and has contended that in view of the impaired mental reflexes that the deceased had at that point of time it may not have been possible for her to take a decision to jump out of the train.
While the said proposition need not necessarily be incorrect, what cannot also be ignored is the evidence of P.W. 4 and P.W. 40 in this regard which is to the effect that they were told by the middle aged man, standing at the door of the compartment, that the girl had jumped out of the train and had made good her escape. The circumstances appearing against the accused has to be weighed against the oral evidence on record and the conclusion that would follow must necessarily be the only possible conclusion admitting of no other possibility. Such a conclusion to the exclusion of any other, in our considered view, cannot be reached in the light of the facts noted above. “
But the statements of PW 4 and PW 40 were hearsay evidence. PW4 and PW 40 do not say that they themselves saw Soumya jumping off the train. And hearsay evidence is inadmissible in evidence vide section 60 of the Indian Evidence Act, except in certain limited circumstances e.g. a dying declaration or opinion of an expert. None of those limited circumstances existed in this case. So how could the Court rely on this hearsay evidence ? This was a grave error in the judgment, not expected of judges who had been in the legal world for decades. Even a student of law in a law college knows this elementary principle that hearsay evidence is inadmissible.“
The above is still being discussed through various mainstream media portals but there are other aspects which are more controversial and not as widely known, except on social media :
Whose funding enabled Charley Thomas, a habitual offender and ‘beggar’, to afford an expensive & controversial lawyer like Biju Antony (aka BA Aloor)?
Charley Thomas was a habitual offender. Going by this news report, he is simultaneously serving sentences in cases of robbery and assaulting a jail convict. Charley had almost eight cases against him in Tamil Nadu, and was known as Charley Thomas in TN police records. Another news report mentions :
“Salem First Class Magistrate court had sentenced him to 7 years imprisonment in April 24, 2014 in connection with the chain snatching case. On February 25, 2013 Kannur Magistrate court had sentenced him to 10 months imprisonment in a case pertaining to destruction of CCTV cameras inside the central jail. Govindachamy who is currently lodged in Block No 10 of Kannur Central jail along with nine others who have been sentenced to death in different cases, used to behave violently in the initial phase. He created ruckus inside the jail premises, threatened officials and fellow convicts.
During his sentence period only two persons used to visit him occasionally; his advocate B.A. Aloor and one of his relatives Murugan. Apart from the three cases, Govindachamy had been involved in many other crimes. A Tindivanam court convicted him of house breaking in 2004 and a Kadalur court in 2005. He was convicted of house robbery in Erode 2006 , in Tambaram and Thiruvallur in 2007.“
So a man with history of crimes behind him was roaming around free and did not hesitate to carry out a brutal assault cum rape. This shows the audacity with which history-sheeters take law into their hands without any fear in Bharat. Shouldn’t the SC have taken this into consideration while deciding the final verdict of the case?
More intriguing is the fact that this convict who was reported to be a ‘mentally unbalanced beggar’ initially by most mainstream media, finally hired an extremely expensive and controversial lawyer to defend him. Some twitter handles tweeted what they found out about the whole mystery :
In 2011, it was reported that the police were investigating an evangelist group that was raising funds for Charley Thomas. #SoumyaMurder
— Abhinav Agarwal (@AbhinavAgarwal) September 15, 2016
“..is reportedly a member of “Akasha Paravakal”, an evangelist group, and had converted to Christianity taking the name of Charley Thomas.”
— Abhinav Agarwal (@AbhinavAgarwal) September 15, 2016
The tweets clearly show the screenshot of the cached page of a Deccan Chronicle news report which mentions that Charley was a member of Christian evangelist group ‘Akasha Paravakal’. It is surprising that the link to this news report doesn’t exist now :
In 2011, there was also news about Charley’s links with ‘beggar mafia’ of the south but nothing was heard about it again. The funding for an expensive lawyer too remains mysterious . As per this news report, his lawyer Biju Antony aka BA Aloor said these words when media probed him on funding :
“How is that anyone’s concern? I charge Rs 5 lakh per criminal case and my duty is only to represent my client. Since I have represented him in three courts, the charges have exceeded Rs 15 lakhs, but that is not of anyone’s concern.
There are certain people who wanted to help him (Charley). People who have been accused along with him in other cases who had approached me. The ‘mafia connection’ is a media creation.”
Further, this news report from The New Minute suggests the controversial credentials of Charley’s counsel Biju Antony aka BA Aloor. In fact, he himself seems to be candid about it and enjoys being in controversy. Quoting the news report:
“Aloor caused a minor stir when it was reported that the lawyer will reportedly represent Ameerul Islam in the Jisha rape and murder case. Previously, Aloor had also claimed that he would represent Ajmal Kasab, convicted and hanged for the 2008 terror attacks in Mumbai.
When Aloor’s appearance on behalf of Govindachamy gained media attention, the lawyer reportedly created more controversy when he revealed that he had appeared in the case after being engaged by a network of criminals from Tamil Nadu with links to the Mumbai underground activities.”
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. Forensic expert Dr. Sherly Vasu said that she finds it suspicious that Senior Advocate Thomas P Joseph who appeared for State of Kerala in the SC had not once approached her before the hearing. “I feel this is a result of an ego issue,” she alleged.
So, this case is shadier than we can imagine. While most of the mainstream media choose to call the accused ‘Govindachamy’ instead of Charley Thomas and buried his links, the SC probably did not pay heed to the accused’s history of crimes and sources of funding.
Are the laws and judiciary soft on punishments for rape & murder crimes?
It is still rare to find our laws and judiciary, specially higher judiciary, giving death penalty for criminals who rape and murder women, even little girls. It will take time for an average Bharatiya woman to digest the fact that Mohammad Afroz, the 17.5 yrs old brutal rapist (age at the time of committing the crime) of Nirbhaya, who had inserted iron jack/ rod in her and pulled her intestines out, is free today and probably living under zero vigilance.
It is still common to notice rapists coming out of prison in 7 years or 10 years, same for chronic pedophiles. A sexual offender of the degree of a rapist should ideally remain in prison for life and the one who also caused death (intentionally or unintentionally) while raping deserves capital punishment.
In a recent happening, SC commuted the death penalty of a convict in a rape and murder case of a seven-year-old girl that took place in 2011 in Jabalpur, Madhya Pradesh. The court said the case does not fall in the ‘rarest of rare category’ and clarified that the convict will not be released before 25 years behind bars.
Raping and killing a 7 year old does not remain rare anymore!
In February 2013, a local court in Jabalpur had awarded death sentence to the accused in this case. The accused’s name is Pancham Lodhi and he had lured the minor girl to his house and raped her on May 12, 2011. Then he strangulated her and later dumped her body on a loft inside his house. The death sentence was upheld by the MP High Court but SC has commuted it to 25 years imprisonment.
For very long imprisonments, the government feeds such criminals with taxpayers’ money. The anti-death penalty brigade also has some high-profile backers who exercise lot of clout in the legal ecosystem. But what will act as a deterrent to such cruel rapes and murders then?
(Featured image courtesy: The News Minute)