Thursday, December 08, 2016

Govindaswamy v. State of Kerala (Soumya Rape Case) – Analysis in the Light of Recent Controversies (Part I)

Guest Post by Akshita Jha

This part of the analysis puts forward the brief facts of the case, coupled with the analysis of the medical reports and the reasoning of the Supreme Court behind giving the final verdict.

After the issuance of a notice for the contempt of court to Justice Markandey Katju, the Soumya Rape case (Govindaswamy v State of Kerala, Criminal Appeal No. 1584-1585 of 2014), which was already in the headlines in the anticipation of death penalty for the accused, has gained the momentum once again.

Keeping the spat between Justice Gogoi and Justice Katju aside, in my opinion, the judgment stands out as a classic example of literal interpretation of S 300 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and safeguarding the rights of the accused. Thus, in this post, I aim to analyze the judgment and emphasize the importance of the rights of the accused in the Criminal Law system.

Analysis of the judgment – review petition
On a plain reading of section 300 (a) (“If it is done with the intention of causing such bodily injury as the offender knows to be likely to cause the death of the person to whom the harm is caused”), we get an idea that the offender must cause the bodily injury either with the specific intent of causing death or with the specific intent of causing bodily injury which will in most of the probability cause death. However, Justice Gogoi holds that, in this case, the accused, Govindachamy, did not have the specific intent to cause the death of the victim and this was apparent right from the initial assaults on the victim’s body. He remarked that “the intention of the accused (Govindaswamy) was to make victim sub-conscious or in a supine position, so that she does not protest and resist when he commits the sexual intercourse with her”. Justice Gogoi also remarked that since the intention of committing sexually indecent behavior towards the victim was clear since the beginning, in normal circumstances, the murder, if at all has to be carried, would have been done after the intercourse. Therefore, when the intention of the accused is to make victim weak so as to not protest while raping her, this section does not apply and hence, the accused was acquitted of the charge for murder. Justice Gogoi, upholding the principal laid down in William Staney v State of Madhya Pradesh (SC 1956, AIR 116), also took into consideration that the victim did not die on the spot or very shortly after the infliction of injuries but survived for some days in the hospital before death.

On a literal interpretation, the judgment seems in consonance with S 300(a) and (b) of the Indian Penal Code. However, if we go by with S 300(c) (“If it is done with the intention of causing bodily injury to any person and the bodily injury intended to be inflicted is sufficient in the ordinary course of nature to cause death”), it is to be emphasized that the injury inflicted should be sufficient in the ordinary course of nature to cause death. In this case, according to the forensic reports, there were two main injuries listed. The first injury was in the head of the victim, caused due to pushing forward and banging her head, against a flat surface. The second injury is to be emphasized here, since this is the point of contention between the versions of the facts laid out by the prosecution and the defence. The prosecution argues that the victim got unconscious after the first injury and hereafter, the accused pushed her out of the moving train. However, the defence argues that the victim herself jumped out of the train and fell, thereafter injuring herself.

Now coming to the medical reports, they clearly mention the injury was on the cheek and towards the eye of the victim, showing an upward glide and no resistance by the hands of the victim. The inference that the medical reports suggest is that the train was moving at a negligible speed when the victim was pushed out (or jumped) from the train and her left side of the face hit the rail track, causing this injury. No injury marks on the hands show that the victim was not in a position of defending her body, as a natural reflex, from getting hurt by the train. The point that is to be noted out of these medical reports is that, even if the accused pushed the victim out of the train, since it was moving at a negligible speed, and he himself jumped out of the train, after the victim, as was seen by the security guard, the entire transaction did not include any major risk to the life of the victim at the time of commission. The death of the victim was caused by the cumulative effect of both the injuries. The speed of the train is very important here. The negligible speed of the train, and just the deep abrasions on the cheek and eye of the girl without any specific cuts or permanent privations, combined with the medical reports show that the victim died of the cumulative effect of the injuries, rape and abandonment leading to a delay in the medical care.

The part of this entire transaction that saved the accused was the fact that it could not be proved beyond reasonable doubt that the accused had formed the intention of causing the death of the victim. There was more than one hypothesis available to the proof of showing the intention of the accused(rape and murder). Though it is true that the victim died of the injuries caused by the accused, however, to be held guilty under S 300, it is to be proven that the accused had sufficient “mens rea” to cause death or the act was so dangerous that it will, in all probability, cause death of the victim. Even the medical report has not attributed either of the injuries to be the sole cause of death and has mentioned about the combined effect of both in addition to the forced sexual intercourse. And it is the common knowledge that the guilt of the accused has to be proved “beyond reasonable doubt” in order to convict him. 

Thus, the condition is formed where, the accused caused injuries to the victim in order to rape her and the victim died as a result. The question before the court was whether the accused would be liable for causing the death of the victim when he clearly wanted to commit some other crime and death happened as a result of both the acts? And whether, in a case where there is no sufficient proof of intention of the accused, will render him liable for a crime as grievous as murder?

It seems the Supreme Court has not exonerated but maintained the conviction for rape and for lack of evidence could not substantiate the charge under 302 IPC - ultimately only the sentence was changed from death to life imprisonment.

(The author is a second year student at the National University of Juridical Sciences, Kolkata. Part II will be posted tomorrow.)

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