Kochi | The Kerala High Court on Wednesday rejected the bail plea of 12 out of the 13 persons convicted and sentenced to seven years in jail for beating a tribal man to death for allegedly stealing food in 2018 in Palakkad district of the state. The court said their act left a blot on the conscience of society.
A bench of Justices P B Suresh Kumar and P G Ajithkumar said the convicts' act of parading the victim naked in public for a considerable time with his hands tied from behind "certainly makes the case exceptional".
"The nature of such an act left a blot on the social conscience and the cultural fabric of the society, which is considered to be a civilised one,"
The high court noted that the convicts' incessant attacks on the victim -- Madhu -- led to his death.
It also noted that the victim's mother was also threatened at the instance of some of them.
"Considering those facts and circumstances the concern of the 2nd respondent (victim's mother) about her safety and security in the event of releasing the petitioners (convicts) on bail has reason," the high court said.
At the same time, the court suspended the sentence of the main accused in the case and granted him bail saying he was not a party to the assembly which had harassed and ridiculed the victim.
"Accordingly, we take the view that the 1st accused is entitled to get an order of suspension of sentence, whereas the other petitioners (other convicts) are not," the bench said.
The court granted bail to the main accused-convict subject to the condition that he execute a bond of Rs one lakh with two sureties of the like amount.
The other bail conditions imposed on him state that he must deposit the entire fine amount within a period of one month, not enter the limits of Palakkad district till his appeal against his conviction and sentence is disposed of, and not go abroad without the permission of the trial court.
The high court also directed the main accused-convict not to get involved in any offence while out on bail.
The bench in its order also observed that the convicts whose bail was rejected were aware that the victim belonged to a Scheduled Tribe and the trial court ought to have considered the applicability of section 8(c) of the SC/ST Act.
Section 8(c) of the SC/ST Act states that when an accused has personal knowledge of the victim or his family, the court shall presume that the accused was aware of the caste or tribal identity of the victim, unless the contrary is proved.
In the instant case, the trial court "did not consider that aspect of the matter", the bench said in its order.
The high court also observed that the prosecution's submission that the convicts were aware of the caste of the victim "appears prima facie sound".
"In that case, the mandatory punishment ought to be life imprisonment as prescribed in section 3(2)(v) of the SC/ST Act," the bench said.
With these directions and observations, the high court listed the appeals of the convicts and that of the state for hearing on January 15, 2024.
The state, represented by Additional Special Public Prosecutor P V Jeevesh, has moved an appeal seeking enhancement of the sentence given to the 13 convicts.
A special court in Kerala had on April 5 sentenced the 13 persons to seven years in jail for beating Madhu to death.
Madhu, a tribal man from Attappady, was beaten to death after he was caught and tied up by a group of local people, who accused him of theft on February 22, 2018.
Calling it the "first mob lynching case in God's Own Country," the trial court had said, "Let it be the last such case."