SC saves 3 from gallows in honour killing case

The Supreme Court has saved from gallows three men sentenced to death in a honour killing case in Mumbai by taking a lenient view that the main perpetrator of the crime was a victim of the "vicious grip of caste".

New Delhi: The Supreme Court has saved
from gallows three men sentenced to death in a honour killing
case in Mumbai by taking a lenient view that the main
perpetrator of the crime was a victim of the "vicious grip of
caste".

"The caste is a concept which grips a person before
his birth and does not leave him even after his death. The
vicious grip of caste, community, religion, though totally
unjustified, is a stark reality.

"The psyche of the offender in the background of a
social issue like an inter-caste-community marriage, though
wholly unjustified, would have to be considered in the
peculiar circumstances of this case," the apex court said
while reducing the death penalty to 25 years RI in the case of
two convicts and 20 years for the third convict.

The case relates to the killing of one Prabhu, a
member of Ezhavar caste of Kerala, who was hacked to death
along with his father Krishnan Nochil, brother Bijit and a
neighbour Abhyaraj by the convicts who are Brahmins.

Prabhu`s mother Indira and sister Deepa were injured in
the attack carried out at Andheri in Mumbai on May 17, 2004.
Accused Dilip, along with two others Sunil Yadav and
Manoj, carried out the killing as they felt insulted because
Dilip`s younger sister Sushma had married Prabhu despite the
family`s opposition.

The sessions court had sentenced the accused to death
and the Bombay High Court confirmed it, after which the
accused had appealed in the apex court.

Though agreeing that the killings were gruesome, the
apex court said Dilip had carried out the act as he felt
humiliated by the action of his younger sister getting married
to a so-called lower caste man.

"Sushma was the younger sister of this accused
(Dilip). It is a common experience that when the younger
sister does something unusual--and in this case it was an
intercaste, intercommunity marriage out of the secret love
affair--then in the society it is the elder brother who
justifiably or otherwise is held responsible for not stopping
such affair.

"It is held as the family`s defeat. At times, he has
to suffer taunts and snide remarks even from persons who
really have no business to poke their nose into the affairs of
the family. Dilip, therefore, must have been a prey of the
so-called insult which his younger sister had imposed upon his
family and that must have been in his mind for seven long
months," the apex court said.

It said the evidence on record revealed that even
after the marriage with Prabhu, efforts were made by the
family members of Dilip to bring Sushma back.

"It has come in evidence that the mother of Dilip
tried to lure back Sushma and so did her other married sister
Kalpana who actually went to meet Sushma in her college. Those
efforts paid no dividend. Instead, Sushma kept attending the
college, thereby openly mixing with the society. This must
have added insult to the injury felt by the family members and
more particularly, accused Dilip," the bench said.

According to the apex court, the love affair, which
went on between Sushma and Prabhu for which Abhayraj
acted as a messenger, must have raised Dilip`s feeling of
being cheated by Prabhu.

"This was further aggravated because of the so-called
higher status of a Brahmin family on the part of Dilip and so-
called non-Brahmin status of Prabhu. It has come on record
that Sushma was moved to Andheri at the house of Shashidharan
(relative) and this ought to have added as a spark which
resulted in a tornado.

"Dilip undoubtedly was a young person not even having
crossed 25 years of life and not having any criminal
antecedent. If he became the victim of his wrong but genuine
caste considerations, it would not justify the death sentence.

"The murders were the outcome of social issue like a
marriage with a person of so-called lower caste. However, a
time has come when we have to consider these social issues as
relevant while considering the death sentence in the
circumstances as these," the bench said.

The bench said all murders are foul but the degree of
brutality, depravity and diabolic nature differ in each case
and there cannot be a straightjacket formula for deciding upon
the circumstances under which the death penalty is a must.

"In a death sentence matter, it is not only the nature
of the crime but the background of the criminal, his
psychology, his soccial conditions and his mindset for
committing the offence are also relevant," the apex court said
citing its earlier reasoning adopted in the Bachan Singh
case.

Citing the Bachan Singh case, the apex court said the
principle is that the court should not confine its
consideration principally or merely to the circumstances
connected with the particular crime but also give due
consideration to the circumstances of the criminal.

"It is because of this that we have ventured to
consider the mindset of accused No.1 Dilip and the vicious
caste grip that might have provoked the crime committed by
him.

"However, in the peculiar circumstances of this case,
mere life imprisonment which is capable of resulting into 20
years of imprisonment or 14 years of actual imprisonment may
not be adequate punishment for these accused persons, " the
bench said.

Hence, the apex court said that in the overall
circumstances, it would be appropriate that Dilip and Manoj,
who assaulted Krishnan, Prabhu and the two helpless ladies,
would deserve the life imprisonment.

"But we direct that they shall not be released unless
they complete 25 years of actual imprisonment. In case of
Sunil, (third accused) however, since he had not assaulted the
helpless ladies nor had he taken part in the assault on
Krishnan, he deserves life imprisonment in ordinary sense. He
shall have to undergo the 20 years of actual punishment," the
bench said in its judgement.

PTI