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

Image of Supreme Court of India
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.
Introduction
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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