A Rape Case
Those girls were barely fourteen or fifteen. Two young girls, healthy and pretty. They decided to join a nunnery without their parents’ consent. One day, they got on the boat to Ernakulam secretly. The boat neared the Ernakulam jetty at night.
The passengers got off. The girls were going to the convent. The rickshaw-pullers there agreed to take them there. The girls climbed in and they set off. Three lechers -eve-teasers – poovaalanmaar – were following the rickshaw. They had already noticed the helplessness of the young girls, and followed them. They had already bribed the rickshaw-pullers with a large sum. Instead of going to the convent, they took the girls to a deserted area.
Once they reached this spot, these men blinded by lust raped the girls and wounded them. Lust satisfied, they left them by the road. The next morning, passers-by found them unconscious and covered with blood. They informed the police and the police took the girls to the hospital, provided first-aid, and took their statements.
The police began a systematic investigation. All five suspects were charged. The rickshaw-pullers also were charged according to Sec. 376 for abetting the crime.
This was an incident that shook Ernakulam town. This infamous crime and the investigation that followed was reported with much importance by the newspapers.
This was the first rape case I heard. There was sufficient evidence. All the circumstantial evidence was strong. The two girls were examined for two or three days by the lawyer representing the accused. I did not permit anyone except the lawyers of both sides, the Bench clerk, and the peon to be present in the courtroom so that the girls could speak fully, without concealing anything. I stopped the defendants’ lawyers from asking unnecessary questions during the cross-examination. They answered the other questions bravely.
The hearing was over, and the arguments complete. The verdict was posted for another day. By now, the accused and their lawyers could see that that it would result in a conviction.
The next day, I received an anonymous letter. “You don’t know who the first accused is. No Magistrate or Judge from Kochi will dare to sentence him. If you, a woman from Travancore, dare to do it, you will suffer the same fate as the two women who are the plaintiffs in this case. So be careful!” This was the summary of the letter. My mind did falter a bit when I read it. What was I to do with it! Should it be handed over to the police or the Chief Justice! I also did think that a letter that was unsigned and with no address on it should be torn and thrown away. But I thought anyway, let me seek the advice of my own ‘police authority’.
I telegrammed him saying that I felt unwell and requested him to come soonest. He came quickly. When I showed him the letter, he asked, “So, this is why you sent me a false telegram to hurry here? If I knew, I wouldn’t have come!’ He told me a story too, of a police inspector somewhere in Madras who telegrammed the DSP. The telegram was meant to inform the DSP that someone had harmed the police inspector physically. The words were these: ‘Blows received, how to proceed’. The witty DSP allegedly replied, ‘Proceed as before.’ My husband gave me courage, saying that there was nothing to fear. How were we to know if the accused had indeed sent this? What if someone, maybe some policemen, were trying to creating a misunderstanding about him so that he would be punished even more severely? There was no way to be sure. He advised me to hand over the letter to the Chief Justice, my superior, and act as he said. Look carefully at the evidence and convict if it allows; if not, acquit. He returned after telling me that the letter should not influence the verdict.
I gave the letter to the Chief Justice, and he sent it to the DSP. I did not hear anything more about any investigation of it. Anyway, the first, second, and third accused were sentenced to five years of hard labour and imprisonment; the fourth and fifth accused were handed down two years of imprisonment each. But I will not conceal one thing. After that letter, I gave up getting on a rickshaw even during the day. And the truth is that I wouldn’t even travel in a car after nightfall.
The accused in the case appealed and got out on bail. One day, when I was alone at home, the first accused came to the door and bowed low in salutation. I went up and bolted the door first. And then asked him why he had come.
“That anonymous letter was sent by some of my enemies,” he said. “I heard that it was handed to the police for investigation. I did not know anything of it. For God’s sake, I beg you, please don’t tell the judges who are hearing the appeal that it was I who sent it. I will not regret it if the appeal is turned down on the strength of evidence. If you say anything, my punishment can only increase.”
“I am not going to see or talk to anyone. My verdict was based on the evidence. I don’t intend to do anything more. I am not going to interfere in this case anymore,” I assured him and sent him away. The High Court affirmed the conviction.
Another important case that I heard as the Ernakulam District Judge was the Edappally case. The case was against some friends of two communist prisoners who were held at the Edappally police station, who were accused of joining in unlawful assembly to free them, and of shooting and killing two policemen who tried to stop them. The first accused was a BA holder, a Mathew. Of the others, I remember only the present MP, Viswanatha Menon. The Anchikaimal District Court needed a long witness box, and whole row outside it for all the accused to be produced. All of them were youngsters, and with menacing moustaches. Some of them had a cruel look and demeanour too.
It was a highly charged case, in all ways. The accused would be brought to the court during court hours in a police van. They would be shouting ‘Inquilab Zindabad’ inside the court premises and outside. There would be an enormous crowd filling the courtroom, the verandas, the yard, and the road well before eleven every morning. In those days, everyone was scared of the communists. The impression was that they would not stop at anything. “They won’t mind hiding a cracker or something in their clothes and throwing it when the court is in session. As far as possible, get this case transferred to another court,” some of my well-wishers, and others who pretended to be my well-wishers, advised me. But the courage and confidence of youth, the experience of having heard and judged many Sessions cases, and above all, deep faith in God, helped me to hold the hearings without any difficulty.
The day the hearing started, when the accused were lined up inside and outside the witness box, they made a joint request: “The hearing of this case is bound to last more than a month. Many of us are not healthy enough to stand every day from eleven to five. The arrest and incarceration have taken a toll on our health, and so we should be granted seats in the court.” The accused were not allowed to sit down in court those days. I had not seen such a thing as a lawyer and as a judge. And on top of that, the misgivings about allowing the accused who allegedly attacked a police station and killed two policemen to sit, in a case which the government was pursuing with great force. The government pleader argued that this was a mere ploy and that the court should not give in. I did falter a moment, unable to take a decision of this unprecedented issue. But then I remembered a news report or a photo of a case in which the accused were allowed to sit – in the Mahatma Gandhi murder case or some such. Anyway, I felt that allowing the accused to sit in a case which was to be heard over a long time period was just common courtesy, and that it would not affect the case in any way.
I allowed their request and ordered that two benches should be laid inside and outside the witness box to accommodate all the accused. The moment I said this, the expressions on the faces of the accused changed. They saluted the court happily and sat down. But the government pleader’s expression changed quickly, and he expressed his protest at the court’s decision. The charge-sheet was read out and the statements of the policemen, who were present at the station at the time of the attack, and of other witnesses, were taken. The hearing continued.
The whole process took around three weeks. Though the crime was proved, the side of the accused was able to prove in the cross-examination of the plaintiff’s witnesses that many who had not taken part in the crime or were not present there then were also included among the accused. One of them was Viswanatha Menon. A chief argument from the plaintiff’s side was that all those who had gone to free the prisoners were opposed alike by the policemen and were equally likely to have shot at the latter to remove the obstacles in their path, and so according to IPC Sec. 149, all of them were equally guilty of murder. I was convinced that they did not have enough evidence to support this claim. I sentenced the first and second accused who had shot at and killed the policemen to life imprisonment and hard labour, and handed down periods of imprisonment to the other accused who were proved to be participants in the attack according to the seriousness of their crimes, and acquitted those against who the evidence was non-existent or weak. I believe that the verdict was faithful to truth and justice. But it was not likely to please the police authorities who wanted all the accused to be hanged or those who wanted all of them acquitted.
Anyway, when the verdict was pronounced, except those who had been acquitted, the accused did not salute the court as they used to do every day during the hearing. I took it as an expression of their dissatisfaction. I left, taking relief that I would have to see them only after a long time now. But when I was walking alone on the street towards the church on the Sunday after the verdict, I met them unexpectedly — the convicted were coming from the opposite side, flanked by the police. That sight did trouble me for a moment. I walked on pretending not to see them at all. But the moment they saw me, they raised their shackled arms and folded their palms, saluting me, passing on. I praised the Lord and went towards the church. The government appealed; the High Court rejected that part of it that asked to convict those who I had acquitted. But the convicts’ sentences were altered under Sections 302 and 149 and all of them were sentenced to life imprisonment with hard labour.