Pretentious Malayalis are drenching the cultural sphere of Kerala with emotional rants on the pretext of justice for Soumya, a young woman brutally raped and allegedly murdered by a single-handed beggar Govindachami in a running train. Hundreds of Malayalis vent their spleen at the erudite Juries of the Supreme Court (SC) for an unquestionably rational judgement, which has spared death sentence to Govindachami.

Mainstream media and social media were inundated with wrong information, biased opinions, responses, re-responses as well as several memes and trolls spurting anger, despair, and pun on the verdict. These virally spread messages have created a wave of ill-informed public opinion destructive to the foundations of our secular and democratic society. While this article does not intend to pronounce a verdict on the jurisprudence, a post-mortem of the media interventions after the ruling of the SC seems to be inevitable.

Court Examines Evidences, Not Emotions

Govindachamy, was sentenced to death for the rape and murder of 23-year-old Soumya Viswanathan in Kerala. The Bench led by Justice Ranjan Gogoi sustained the rape “most brutal and grotesque”, and upheld the lower court’s decision to put him behind bars for life. Nonetheless the SC acquitted the convict from the awarded capital punishment unable to find any clinching evidence to prove that he intended to kill her. As the prosecution could not prove that Govindachamy was guilty of murder beyond reasonable doubt the appellate court ruled that the culprit had only “voluntarily causing grievous hurt” and reduced his death penalty to seven-year imprisonment.

From the copy of the judgement we learn that the jury were extremely objective with regard to the ruling. They have stood by the standards and provisions of IPC and the Indian Constitution. The appellate court has looked into the technical aspects of the evidences for the attempted murder, which the prosecution failed to vindicate. There is nothing strange or unusual in the verdict and such an acquittal is not the first in history!

Courts go by evidences; and fairness of the trial consists in considering the evidences objectively. Thus is justice fulfilled. The bench proved that the judges should not be hooked by any popular sentiments but should abide by the objective legal procedure to ensure fair trial. Contrastingly, responses to the verdict in the media proved that the Malayalis are highly illogical and sentimental. Sound reasoning and fair judgement indeed irritate those who do not have it.

Misinforming and Misguiding Media

Immediately the electronic channels erupted with breaking news. It reported that the SC has ‘simplified the punishment of Govindachami for seven years and the notorious killer would be freed in two years.’ They carried very provocative headlines, spreading havoc among women folk. It maddened many Malayalis who were expecting to celebrate the execution of the killer beggar. Quickly, public opinion evolved to state that people lost trust in the judicial system. Women expressed insecurity.

In reporting this news the media especially the broadcast media had severely erred by misinforming people about the SC verdict. Media was right in informing that the court has lessened the capital punishment to mere seven years of imprisonment. They were wrong in not reporting that the SC has upheld all the other 18 accusations including rape and the respective punishments ruled by the trial court. Evidently, the reporters were less attentive to the complete pronouncement probably because of their absorption with breaking the news.

The greatest mistake done by the media is that they did not report the fact that SC upheld the life imprisonment. By emphasizing that the culprit would be released from prison in less than two years they spread anxiety and disappointment among public. Life imprisonment in fact implies a jail term for the convict’s entire life, a nuanced information slipped from the media professionals. It took almost 8 hours until the reporters got a copy of the judgement to clarify the ambiguities regarding the verdict. Some journalists later came up with lame excuses for their mistakes, which in no way erases the damage done to the democratic process. In the era of proliferating 24×7 news channels and their unhealthy competition to become the first-to-break the news, an average citizen has to risk very crucial information required for meaningful democratic participation!

Soon, women celebrities such as Manju Varier, T.N. Seema, and K.R. Indira came up with opinions. They voiced ‘anyone who abuses women shall be executed.’ While everyone enjoys freedom to express their opinions in a democratic society, they must not forget that the opinion must be consonant with the Constitution, which grants that right to the public; and it must be exercised with utmost care and responsibility. The comments gain them nothing more than popular adulation and they are less than constructive to public opinion. Ironically, in India serious issues like security of women, public safety and well being, religious amity, Dalit welfare, national security etc., do not get discussed and debated adequately during federal or state election campaigns. Habitually, Malayalis seek gratification in momentary emotional ventilation during tragedies, and social media offer them secure and anonymous space for that.

Soumya’s murder case repeatedly found place in the prime time discussions whenever it made a news. Media succeeded in galvanising popular opinion that anything less than capital punishment is considered denial of justice not only for Soumya, but also for entire women folk of the society. This had fatal consequences during inquest and trial of Soumya case. In spite of the pitfalls in the collection of adequate evidences including the post-mortem report, if the trial court had awarded capital punishment to the culprit, we must perhaps presume that the jurisprudence of the trial court was pressured by popular opinion.

Important questions were submerged as the mindless mob bothered more with the emotional harassment of Govindachami in social media with envy trolls on his fare and fatty figure improved during the prison term. Who provided legal assistance to Govindachami? Who afforded his heavy court expenses? Media was preoccupied with negotiating death sentence for him than facilitating a fair investigation of the case. Indeed, Malayalis took it for granted that the heightened emotional reporting and prime time discussions would secure him the noose! The judgement of the SC is a heavy blow to those did not do the homework – the investigating team, the prosecution, the State Government, the media and the highly emotional public. Malayalis who boast of their high literacy levels need to sit in legal literacy class before they abuse the honourable judges.

Twisted Media and Media Twists

The most intriguing twist in the Soumya case unfolded on days following the SC verdict. K.P.O. Rahmathulla, of Tejas Malayalam daily reported that a Christian missionary group namely Akashaparavakal, is financially supporting the criminal. Akashaparavakal, also known as Birds of the Air, is a reputed Catholic organisation working for the rehabilitation of beggars and abandoned persons of the society.

The carefully crafted story scripted a religious conversion twist saying Govindachami was converted to Christianity by this group and is named Charlie Thomas. The report alleged that the missionary group has organised the most expensive criminal advocate to save the criminal from death penalty. They presented other fabricated evidences. No sooner had this news popped up in Tejas, mainstream news dailies and other online sensational news sites have taken up the issue to give added circulation. People inundated the social media with vituperative comments and abuses against, Akashaparavakal, Christian churches and its leaders.

No one seemed to have contacted the alleged organisation and its officials to confirm the veracity of the news before publishing it. On 17th September Asianet, a Malayalam TV channel conducted a prime time discussion in which the Tejas reporter himself was present in the panel. The discussion proved in public that the story was absolutely baseless. Nevertheless, the damage done to the organisation and Christianity in Kerala was irreparable. What other evidence one needs to believe that the mainstream media in Kerala is deliberately emotional and destructive? Does not this prove that an illogical and emotional public can derail the democratic process?

Clamour For Capital Punishment

While most nations have abolished the capital punishment, the Malayalis who take pride in their rich culture is roaring for capital punishment. Comments in social media lauds stringent religious laws such as that of Saudi Arabia or Chatrapati Shivaji. They demand capital punishment despite it annihilates human dignity, and is ineffective in preventing crime. They hasten to execute violators with jungle justice in their popular courts. Experience teaches us that violence against women is unabated albeit the culprits are punished, which affirms want of a robust system of social order.

Instead of emotionally drowning in illogical line of reasoning, Malayalis should meaningfully engage in constructive debates on the necessity and retention of capital punishment. Clamour for capital punishment is ignominious to a community whose foundations are based on reason, human rights and dignity. Such sick consciousness and its supporters need immediate treatment for sanity. Alternatively, the political system and the impartial media need to create an environment for people to develop confidence in the judicial system as well as law and order, than crying for death penalty. Prevention of crime should be the foremost priority.

The current emotional and cultural status of Malayali collective conscience is a pseudo creation of some hysteric journalists and the sensational media that pretends to be the fourth estate. In the cacophony of prime time discussions, which scrap the logical mind of average Malayalis, many relevant issues worth pondering are deluded. Malayalis should understand that intelligent people control their emotions by the application of reason. Sanity, not emotionality, advances a progressing community and democratic process.

Published in Indian Currents on 26th September 2016, Volume XXVIII, Issue 39.