HC verdict in caste murder case, a setback to push for protecting freedom of marital choice
There is understandable disbelief and shock over the Madras High Court’s judgment acquitting a man found guilty of ordering the heinous murder of a Dalit youth married to his daughter. While the lower court, after an expeditious trial, had awarded the death sentence to B. Chinnasamy in the sensational Udumalpet Shankar murder case, the High Court has ruled that no conspiracy has been proved. It is indeed disappointing that an emblematic case of murder against a member of the SC in the name of preserving the honour of a dominant caste has been reduced to a narrative without an author. None other than five hirelings unknown to the victim has been found guilty. Their death sentences have been commuted to a life sentence without remission for 25 years. V. Shankar had succumbed to as many as 33 injuries inflicted under the gaze of CCTV cameras at a busy marketplace at Udumalpet town in Tamil Nadu in March 2016. The assailants grievously attacked his wife Kowsalya, Chinnasamy’s daughter. Fortunately, she survived and her courageous deposition against her parents and fellow members of the dominant Thevar community led to the trial court sentencing her father and five assailants to death. The verdict was a shot in the arm for progressive sections concerned about the rising trend in murders and attacks related to caste pride. The exoneration of Kowsalya’s family impedes the social agenda of protecting the freedom of women to make marital choices.
The failure to prove the conspiracy charge reflects poorly on the investigation and prosecution. The main question that arises is who had sent the assailants to eliminate the couple, if not Kowsalya’s parents. It is indeed true that a conspiracy ought to be proved through an unbroken chain of circumstances, and that strong suspicion cannot take the place of proof. However, it is unfortunate that the court treated a peaceful parting of ways in the family soon after their temple wedding in 2015 — when Kowsalya gave a written statement before the police that her parents did not interfere with her marital life and her father’s complaint that Shankar had ‘abducted’ her was closed — as evidence that her father could not have plotted to attack them. It is not beyond human nature to suppress one’s anger in public and strike at a more opportune time. It is possible to say the court could have taken a different view of the call records that showed Chinnasamy being in contact with the assailants and withdrawing money close to the crime. Despite some flaws in its case, the prosecution is expected to appeal against the verdict. It will be in the society’s interest that the Supreme Court gets to examine the full dimensions of this horrific crime.