Central Wing of the Supreme Court of India, New Delhi.

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

Guest Post by Akshita Jha
continuance of the Part I on the analysis of this judgment, this part
constitutes of the criticism of the judgment and its analysis in the light of
the rights of the accused and the responsibility of the Supreme Court in
safeguarding them. This part also highlights the importance of literal
interpretation of medical reports in light of settled precedents.
The Other Perspective              
On factual and moralistic standards, the opinion of the
Supreme Court has been questioned by some of the media houses, Women Rights
Activists, Justice Katju among
others. They have questioned the stance of the SC urging to take into account
the plight of the victim.
Katju has also legally challenged the judgment by remarking that there are 4
sub sections in S 300, the satisfaction of any of which, is enough to prove the
offence of murder and just because the intention of the accused was to make
victim weak and supine, does not mean he never intended to kill her.
These arguments do hold a good
value as far as the idealistic punishments for people like Govindaswamy, who
caused the victim so many injuries, raped her, robbed her and abandoned her to
die, exist. The Delhi Rape Case can be held as a good example for the injuries
that are sufficient in the ordinary course of nature to cause death. The
standards of punishment should be strictly interpreted against the accused when
the victim is not able to survive after rape, and since after the Delhi Rape
Case, such incidents have been on a rise, where the accused causes gruesome
injuries to the victims, the Supreme Court should award the strictest of the
punishment to the accused in order to set a deterrent for the society and such
minded people.
Moreover, the simple chronology of the death of the victim,
3 days after getting brutally raped and injured by the accused point towards
the role of accused, though minimal in causing the death of the victim. In such
circumstances, the prerogative of the apex court should be to provide a good
deterrent to the society.
Very clearly, the latter group of arguments is from a
socio-legal and factual perspective. Apart from the legal challenge put forth
by Justice Katju, which can be rebutted by the above given analysis of all the
sub-parts of S 300 and the act does not fall in any of them, other arguments
are resting on the sensitivity of the victim and they fail to accommodate the
rights of the accused.
 The judiciary, right
from the famous case of Virsa Singh v State of Punjab 1958
AIR 465 has relied literally on the medical
reports to adjudicate the actus reus of the accused and this reliance has been
time and again criticized. However, the Courts’ argument has rested upon its
duty safeguard the interest of the accused (S 227, CrPC) from any gross
violations of justice that can be caused to him. This job specifically becomes
tougher in the cases of death penalty, since the award is punished in the
‘rarest of the rare’ cases, the court has a duty to satisfy itself that the
particular case does and the accused is not being killed for a crime which he
did not even commit. The Court made a distinction between causing grievous hurt
and consequential death and causing death with an intention to do so under S
300. The bench relied gave preference to the precise medical report over the
actual plight suffered by the victim.
The reasoning for such analysis can be attributed to the
theory of legal causation and can be traced back to Virsa Singh again. In this
case, it was opined by the apex court that the medical reports also can be open
to interpretation, if not taken literally and made subject to analysis. One
judge may find the nature of the injuries sufficient to cause death and the
other might not. To avoid this ambiguity, the court took the reports as they
were and this practice started a valid precedent. Moreover, the court also
differentiated in factual and legal causation. A person could be liable for
factually causing a wrong, however, if the acts of the wrongdoer are not
contrary to any legal principals or is not a substantive reason for the
commission of the crime, the benefit of the doubt is generally given to the
In Soumya case, the victim indeed died of the cumulative
effect of the bodily injuries and the forced sexual intercourse caused by the
accused. However, to ascertain that these particular injuries were caused by
the accused, the prosecution had to show the “mens rea” for causing death and
separate it from “mens rea” of committing rape, which due to the lack of
evidence and problems with the admissibility, it could not. Thus, in this
scenario, some doubt arose as to the culpability of the accused and hence the
benefit of the doubt was provided to him.
However, in these circumstances and peculiarity of the facts
of the case, terming it as a “wrong judgment” is not the right thing to do. The
critiques should look into the legal aspect of the entire situation, the powers
and the limits of the apex court and the rules the court is bound to
follow.  Katju’s argument on “common
sense” of the court and the idealistic arguments on the death of the victim are
very non-legal and do not stand against the established legal practices and
settled precedents in Criminal Law.
Thus, in my opinion, the SC has portrayed itself to be as
much of the accused as of the victim. It has adjudicated the case on simple
balance of probabilities and in accordance with the strict principles of law,
which in the socio-legal scenario that followed the incident has been a
herculean task.
Moreover, internationally as well as within India, capital punishment is being highly discouraged. And amidst all the controversies, passing this judgment
has reinstated the balance between the rights of both the parties in the eyes
of law.

Therefore, this decision of
the Supreme Court will go down the books as a classic example of literal
interpretation of the statute while acknowledging and safeguarding the rights
of the accused, in a socio—legal context and amidst the rage of the society
against the judgment, where deterrence needs to be established for such crimes of
rape and causing grievous bodily injury.

(The author is a second year student at the National University of Juridical Sciences, Kolkata. Part I can be accessed here.)
Join the discussion

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.