Hindu Editorial — Shankar murder acquiital

An acquittal that’s so unsettling and repugnable:  Udumalpet Shanker murder case needs a judicial revisit

Madras High Court verdict strikes at the root of freedom of marital choice guaranteed by the Constitution

Chinnasamy murdered Shankar, a Dalit youth for marrying his daughter. It was marriage of two adults who chose their life partners out of their own will. No law of the land can stop such a marriage. B. Chinnasamy was not reconciled to his daughter marrying a youth of the ‘lower’ caste, and got him killed by hired assassins. The assailants attacked the victim Shankar and his newly-wed wife Kowsalya (Chinnasamy’s daughter) with machetes in a busy market place. Shankar succumbed to the injuries, but his valiant wife, Kowsalya,  survived and deposed very bravely before the trial court about the way her parents opposed her marriage tooth and nail, and plotted to have Shankar and her killed. The gruesome murder was recorded in CCTV cameras. Thus, it was an open and shut case of caste injustice, criminal conspiracy, and homicide. B. Chinnasamy had blood in his hands, and the  legal system could never overlook it.

The horrendous crime had shaken the conscience of Tamils, and had caused revulsion all over the country. Social activists who were appalled by the caste-motivated crime drew some comfort after the trial court awarded death penalty to Chinna samy and the five hired goons who perpetrated the crime. But, such relief has now vanished and given rise to acute disbelief anguish after the Madras High Court let Chinnasamy free citing the ground that there was no evidence of conspiracy by the accused in the murder. Quite bafflingly, the High Court found the five hirelings guilty of the murder, but chose to commute their death sentence to 25 years imprisonment. These five men who inflicted as many as 33 cuts on Shankar’s body did it for money, because they never even knew Shankar before.

The High Court exonerated Kowsalya’s parents on grounds of holes in the prosecution and the police investigation. Obviously, the police bear a heavy load of responsibility in Chinnasamy’s walking scot-free, but if the parents of Kowsalya didn’t plot the murder and hire the assailants, who else did? The Court should have asked this question to itself before absolving her parents.

The marriage that ended so tragically had been solemnized in a temple in 2015. It must have riled Kowsalya’s parents sufficiently to torment her and Shankar incessantly. Kowsalya had live with her husband in his home for a brief period, when the unceasing pressure by Chinnasamy on the duo had led to some nasty confrontation. The police stepped in to work out an amicable end to the hounding of the newly-weds by Chinnasamy. At the behest of the police, and to bring an end to the Chinnasamy’s continuing harassment of his daughter and son-in-law, Kowsalya unsuspectingly signed a letter stating that her parents are reconciled the marriage and pose no more physical threat. While signing the letter, little did she know that this well-intentioned submission will be used by her wily father and his lawyer to assert that Chinnasamy could never have planned such a fatal assault.

The honourable judges apparently saw more merit in the words of the simple letter, and failed to read that a man can deceive his daughter with ease, only to extract a deadly revenge later.

Chinnasamy is a free man now, but his acquittal militates against the spirit of the Constitution that guarantees freedom of choice of a life partner for a grown-up person. Apart from this, there are a slew of legal safeguards to protect people of ‘lower’ casts from the wrath of the ‘upper’ cast people. Obviously, there has been a grave miscarriage of justice in this sad case, and the least that the prosecution can do now is to appeal against the acquittal. A caste-motivated crime, particularly driven by sense of superiority of a certain class of people over others has no place in independent India.

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