Madras High Court: In seven criminal appeals filed against the judgment passed by the Trial Court, wherein the Court has convicted the accused persons in the Gokulraj murder case, division bench of M.S. Ramesh and N. Anand Venkatesh*, JJ. convicted ten accused persons and sentenced eight of them to life imprisonment for the rest of their lives without entitlement for remission and a fine of Rs. 5,000/-. Further, it sentenced two accused persons to five years rigorous imprisonment and a fine of Rs. 5,000/.
The Prosecution’s case
The deceased Gokulraj and Swathi were engineering students who studied at KSR College. Gokulraj met Swathi at the bus stand to borrow some money. Thereafter, they went to the temple. When the convicts came to the temple, they found Gokulraj and Swathi talking with each other. When they were asked about the community to which they belonged, it came to light that Gokulraj belonged to a Scheduled Caste community and Swathi belonged to the Kongu Vellalar community. The convicts hatched a conspiracy to do away with the deceased Gokulraj on account of his relationship with Swathi. From the temple, Gokulraj was taken away to the Uchipillaiyar Temple and he was dragged into a Car. The deceased was thereafter taken to the Sankari-Salem highways bridge. He was compelled to get out of the car and was asked to give a suicide speech which was video graphed on the mobile phone. Further, he was threatened to write a suicide note. The deceased was thereafter taken in the Mahindra Jeep by the accused persons between Cauvery railway station and Anangur railway station and he was abused and beaten indiscriminately, on the ground that he should not have developed a relationship with Swathi.
The deceased was, thereafter, strangulated and his head was severed. The torso was placed in between the railway track and the head was placed adjacent to the railway track in order to give the impression that the deceased had committed suicide/met with an accident. The suicide note was placed in the shirt pocket of the deceased.
While analysing whether Gokulraj met Swathi, and both went to the Temple, it said that as per Section 164 Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 a statement was recorded from Swathi, wherein she stated that Gokulraj informed her that he wants some money to purchase a new mobile phone. Accordingly, she met him at the bus stand and accompanied him to the temple. However, she turned hostile when she was examined in the Court, and she retracted her statement under Section 164 CrPC.
However, the Court reiterated that even when a witness turns hostile, it is the duty of the Court to carefully consider the testimony and cull out that part of the evidence to the extent it is creditworthy. There is no rule that the entire version of a hostile witness must be thrown overboard.
The Court further said that in a country where the witnesses turn hostile at the drop of a hat, Courts must be vigilant and act upon those portions which are creditworthy, and which can be used in the light of the other evidence available on record. The attitude of completely discarding the evidence of a hostile witness, in some cases, can derail the course of justice. Further, the principle of “false in one thing, false in everything” does not apply in this country.
The Court examined all the evidence and said that the most crucial evidence to establish that Gokulraj and Swathi came to the temple, was the CCTV footage. The footage depicts both of them entered the temple from the western entrance. Even though Swathi attempted to completely deny the fact that she went to the temple along with the Gokulraj, the falsity in her evidence is apparent as she refused to identify herself in the CCTV footage and whereas, she was able to identify the deceased Gokulraj. Thus, the Court opined that the first circumstance that both had gone to the Temple stands established.
Further, the Court said that Gokulraj went missing on 23-06-2015 and his dead body was thereafter recovered from the railway track on 24-06-2015 clearly stands established.
Concerning the question that the death was homicide and not suicide, the Court noted that the head of the deceased was found dismembered from the torso and it was found flat and flabby like a mask with major part of the scalp, bones, brain and left eye missing.
The Court said that there was only a suspicion that the deceased was killed and as per the inquest reports there were even indications that it could be a case of suicide. However, the neck portion of the deceased remained intact and clean-cut injuries were found in the neck. Any ante-mortem injuries like breaking of the ribs, contusion, swelling of scrotum indicate that the deceased was subjected to physical violence. There was also no indication of any grease or oil in the clothes that were recovered from the body of the deceased, which is another strong indication that the deceased was not run over by a train. One of the injuries which is very disturbing is the sliced cut injury over the tongue which has virtually divided the tongue.
Further, on the presence of L3 stage larvae and to build up a case as if the incident would have taken place 3½ days prior to 24-06-2015, the Court said that the postmortem report shows the presence of maggots in the body and absence of pupae and flies. As the eggs hatch into maggots or larvae within 8-24 hours. Maggots becomes pupae in four or five days. The time of the death as stated by the Doctor to have taken place 3-4 days prior to autopsy, perfectly matches the time when the murder had taken place as stated by the prosecution.
Thus, the Court concurred with the Trial Court’s decision that the present case is a case of death due to homicide and not due to suicide.
After perusing the the statements made by one of the accused during the interview in the news channel, the Court said that it clearly establishes the fact that Maveeran Dheeran Chinnamalai Peravai is a communal association which was headed by the said accused and it had certain objectives to promote unity among the Gounder community and also to prevent the women belonging to the Gounder community from falling into the honey trap of youth belonging to different communities. The Court found no perversity or illegality in the Trial Court’s conclusion that all the accused persons belonged to a caste of Hindu community and the deceased belonged to a Scheduled Caste community, thus caste hatred was the main driving factor supplying the motive behind the gruesome crime.
Thus, the fact that all the accused persons belonged to a particular community clearly established the commonality among the accused persons. As Swathi also belonged to the same community and when she was found talking with the deceased who belonged to Scheduled Caste community, the same became a trigger point where the supposed pride of the community started rearing its ugly head. Therefore, the Court viewed that the motive behind the crime has been sufficiently proved by the prosecution beyond reasonable doubt.
Moreover, on the suicide video and the suicide note that forms part of the conspiracy to project as if the deceased committed suicide, the Court said that the well-orchestrated manner in which the accused persons had executed the gruesome murder of Gokulraj is yet another incriminating circumstance which forms a part of the conspiracy. The accused persons wanted to project it as a suicide whereas, the evidence of the doctors clearly established that the death was caused due to homicide.
On one of the most important circumstance in this case, which is the last seen theory, the Court said that the last seen theory comes into play where the time gap between the point of time when the accused and the deceased were last seen alive and when the deceased is found dead is so small that the possibility of any person other than the accused being the perpetrator of the crime becomes impossible. In the instant case, the deceased was last seen with the accused persons at the temple.
The Court said that the normal rule under Sections 34 and 149 of Penal Code, 1860 (‘IPC’) is that evidentiary burden of proving the existence of a common intention or common object rests with the prosecution. Section 8(b) of the SC & ST Act reverses this position and relieves this evidentiary burden from the prosecution and places it on the accused, requiring him to show that he did not share the common intention or common object as regards an offence under the Act.
In the instant case, the evidentiary burden that was put against the accused persons was not discharged by them. The prosecution has proved the foundational facts through various circumstances put against the accused persons, to bring this case within the net of Section 8(b) of the SC & ST Act. Thus, the Court held the accused persons had the common intention/common object to commit the offence under the Act and this burden was not even remotely discharged by the accused persons.
The Court also said that the judgment/order of acquittal passed by the Trial Court affirms the basic presumption of innocence in favour of the accused persons. A judgment/order of acquittal will be interfered with only when there is glaring infirmity in the appraisal of evidence, or the finding of the Trial Court is perverse or arbitrary. Once the Trial Court, on assessing the materials, acquits the accused persons and if it is a “possible view”, the same cannot be reversed in an appeal filed against acquittal.
The Court upheld the acquittal of 5 accused persons and said that the finding rendered by the Trial Court does not suffer from any perversity or arbitrariness and it is certainly a “possible view” taken by the Trial Court, which does not require any interference by this Court in the appeal.
Further, the Court upheld the acquittal of 10 accused persons from the charges of extortion, forgery, criminal conspiracy for committing these offences and also criminal conspiracy for committing the offence of screening the offender and for causing disappearance of evidence in respect of an offence.
The Court said that it is true that the instant case involves “honour killing”. Further, placing reliance on Bhagwan Dass v. State (NCT of Delhi), (2011) 6 SCC 396, wherein it was held that “honour killings come within the category of the rarest of rare cases deserving death punishment”, said that the accused persons were all under the influence of a demon called “caste”. On balancing between the mitigating and aggravating circumstances, the Trial Court imposed the sentence of imprisonment for the rest of the life of the accused persons without entitlement for remission. Thus, the Court upheld the same.
However, 2 of the accused persons had come into the scene only after the offence was committed by the other accused persons. Thus, the charge of conspiracy against them cannot be sustained once the offence has been committed. Thus, the Court acquitted them from the charge of Section 120-B IPC read with Section 302 IPC read with Section 3(2)(v) of the SC & ST Act but sustained the conviction and sentence for the charges under Sections 212 and 216 IPC.
[Yuvaraj v State, 2023 SCC OnLine Mad 3621, decided on 02-06-2023]
*Judgment Authored by: Justice N. Anand Venkatesh
Advocates who appeared in this case :
For Appellants: Senior Counsel Gopalakrishna Lakshmana Raju, Senior Counsel A. Ramesh, Senior Counsel ARL. Sundaresan, Senior Counsel S. Ashok Kumar, Senior Counsel N Anandha Padmanabhan, Senior Counsel T. Lajapathi Roy;
For Respondents: Additional Public Prosecutor A. Thiruvadi Kumar, Senior Counsel T. Lajapathi Roy, Additional Public Prosecutor A. Thiruvadi Kumar, Senior Counsel Gopalakrishna Lakshmana Raju, Advocate S. Sabbani Karuburajothi.