Setting aside a trial court order that had awarded the death sentence to B Chinnaswamy, the main accused in the Udumalpet honour killing case of March 2016, the Madras High Court on Monday acquitted him of all charges. The court also commuted to life the death sentence against five other convicts in the case.
Chinnaswamy was accused of hiring a gang who hacked his son-in-law V Shankar, then 22, at the Udumalpet market in broad daylight. The murder, captured on CCTV cameras, had led to Shankar’s wife Kausalya fighting the case against her parents, Chinnaswamy and Annalakshmi.
While Chinnaswamy, a driver and a local money lender from the temple town of Palani, belonged to the Thevar community, an Other Backward Class that enjoys political and social clout in the state, Shankar was a Dalit.
In December 2017, the Principal District and Sessions court in Tiruppur had awarded death sentence to six of the 11 accused in the case, including Chinnaswamy.
On Monday, while setting aside the lower court’s order against Chinnaswamy and acquitting him of all charges, including that of criminal conspiracy, the High Court division bench of Justice M Sathyanarayanan and M Nirmal Kumar, said the prosecution was “unable to prove the charge of conspiracy beyond any reasonable doubt”.
The High Court, however, upheld the lower court’s acquittal of Kausalya’s mother and uncle Pandidurai. The investigation officer had moved an appeal in the High Court against their acquittal.
While Kausalya’s statement against her parents had played a key role in Chinnaswamy’s conviction in the lower court, the High Court in its order challenged several of the evidence that the prosecution presented in court.
For instance, the prosecution had held as evidence the cellphone conversations Chinnaswamy had with two of the other accused, and details of currency notes that he allegedly paid the hired killers and witness accounts of the conspiracy being hatched at two locations.
While rejecting the prosecution case, the High Court bench observed that they had failed to submit CCTV images from the ATM from where Chinnaswamy allegedly withdrew money to pay the gang. However, the court upheld the trial court’s conviction against five others since the CCTV images from the market established their identity.
Observing that the five belonged to the Piranmalaikallar community, “a denotified community”, and other Backward Class and Most Backward Class communities, and making note of the fact that none of them had any “bad antecedents”, the court commuted their death sentence to life.
The government counsel said they would challenge the High Court order. “We will study the order, look at reasons for this acquittal and go ahead with an appeal. The government has a strong view against such caste murders, we will challenge it,” he said.
Reacting to Monday’s verdict, Kausalya’s mother said they were innocent and that this was “God’s verdict.”
Kausalya said, “My Shankar would have been still alive if Chinnaswamy and his wife were innocent in this case.” She said she would continue the legal battle to ensure justice for Shankar.
Shankar and Kausalya had met two years before the murder, while they were students of an engineering college in Pollachi near Coimbatore. After her family opposed their relationship, she started staying at Shankar’s house. The murder, eight months after their marriage, happened when they were in Udumalpet town to buy clothes for Shankar’s birthday and a farewell party in college.
Six months after Shankar’s murder, Kausalya cleared a central government exam and bagged a permanent job. Her legal fight also saw her emerge as an icon of anti-caste movements in the state. In December 2018, she married Sakthi, an activist and the player of parai, a traditional drum.
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