In normal circumstances, a high court, being a court of record, goes by what is recorded by the trial court. In the Dalit youth Gokulraj murder case, though Swathi, with whom he was last seen in 2015, had initially cooperated with the prosecution and recorded her statements with the magistrate, somersaulted and turned hostile later. In June this year, the trial court in Madurai convicted 10 people, including caste outfit Dheeran Chinnamalai Gounder Peravai founder Yuvaraj, and acquitted five others.
While Gokulraj’s mother has filed an appeal to enhance the punishment and award of death penalty, the convicted lifers have challenged their sentence.
On Thursday, division bench of Justice M S Ramesh and Justice N Anand Venkatesh pointed out that the attitude of Swathi changed between her evidence to the magistrate and her deposition in court, and said: “It appears that something had transpired between the date of recording of the 164 CrPC statement and time she was called to depose in her examination-in-chief before the trial court. She appears to have completely turned turtle and resiled from her previous statements.”
“Unlike the trial court which was rest content with playing the role of an umpire in a criminal trial, this court cannot remain a mute spectator to what, prima facie, appears to be an attempt to derail and subvert the course of justice. The appellate court cannot sit like monks in a cell balancing right against wrong,” observed the judges.
The judges observed, “To satisfy our judicial conscience, particularly in the light of the fact that this case is loaded with communal overtones, we have found it necessary to exercise our powers under Section 391 Cr PC suo motu to recall Swathi to the witness box. We find that this course is absolutely imperative without which a clear failure of justice would be occasioned,” observed the judges.
The judges then directed the Namakkal district superintendent of police to forthwith provide police protection to Swathi and her family members.
“The police shall ensure that no one is allowed to meet Swathi or make any phone calls to her and her family members. These safeguards must be taken to ensure that Swathi comes before this court without any fear in her mind, when she is questioned by this court,” the judges said.
Yuvaraj and his associates kidnapped Gokulraj, an engineering student from Omalur in Salem district, on June 23, 2015, from a temple at Tiruchengode where he was seen talking to Swathi, who belongs to Gounder community.
His torso was found near a railway track at Pallipalayam, the next day. Police had booked 17 persons in connection with the murder.