Madras HC warns of criminal contempt against Swathi

Tells hostile witness that truth more important than caste, religion
Madurai Bench of Madras High Court
Madurai Bench of Madras High Court

MADURAI: Recalled to the witness box by the Madurai Bench of Madras High Court, the prime witness in the murder of V Gokulraj, Swathi, remained hostile on Friday when asked to testify on what happened to the 21-year-old on that fateful day seven years ago. The judges warned they might have to initiate criminal contempt proceedings against her for lying under oath.

To many of the questions asked by the bench of justices MS Ramesh and N Anand Venkatesh about the circumstances under which Gokulraj was murdered and why she had turned hostile before the trial court, Swathi responded with “I do not remember” or “I do not know”. The judges adjourned the case to Wednesday. They also directed the Registry to place the matter before the administrative judge to get permission for them to continue hearing the case even after the end of the bench’s tenure on December 2.

Gokulraj, an SC youth, had met his collegemate Swathi, belonging to a caste Hindu community, at a temple in Tiruchengode on June 23, 2015. Soon after, he was abducted and found murdered the next day. The Special Court for SC/ST Act cases in Madurai, in March, found 10 persons, including Theeran Chinnamalai Gounder Peravai founder S Yuvaraj, guilty of the murder and sentenced them to life imprisonment. Five other persons were acquitted.

Hearing a batch of appeals filed in connection with the verdict, the division bench of the Madurai Bench of Madras High Court had opined it could not ignore the fact that the prime witness had turned hostile. Suspecting foul play, the bench ordered Swathi to appear before the court for questioning. Swathi was produced before the bench at 10.55 am but she remained hostile.

When the judges played the CCTV footage from the temple, Swathi denied she was the woman seen with Gokulraj in the video, claiming she did not meet the youth that day. This earned her the wrath of judges and drew gasps and indignant murmurs from those who had thronged the court hall for the hearing. The judges criticised her, asking how she could claim not to recognise herself and reminded her of the consequences of lying under oath in court.

The judges let her peruse the statement she had made before the magistrate under Section 164 of CrPC and asked her if the signature in the statement was hers. Although she admitted it was her signature, she alleged the contents of the statement were untrue and the police had told her to make such a statement. “Since my parents were in the police station, I had to obey the police out of fear for their safety,” she claimed. She further claimed that during the identification parade, she identified one of the accused only because the police had shown her his photo beforehand and instructed her to identify him.

The judges made Swathi listen to an audio conversation said to have taken place between her and a man, in which the woman is heard narrating the incidents of June 23, 2015, including Gokulraj’s abduction. However, she maintained the woman’s voice was not hers even when the judges said they might conduct a voice test to verify her claim.

To specific questions from the judges as to whether she knew Gokulraj’s mother Chitra and if she had been with Chitra when the latter gave the police complaint, Swathi replied in the negative. The judges then asked her to explain how her mobile number was a part of the complaint, but she did not give a proper answer. She also claimed not to remember the mobile number she had used at that time. Asked if she had been pressured by the accused or by the police, Swathi said she was not pressured by the accused but had only done what the police had instructed.

The questioning continued till around 12.45 pm with Swathi breaking into tears at several points although she did not change her statements, to the anger of the judges. Truth and righteousness are more important in life than caste or religion, they advised and gave her time to change her mind. When she was produced again at around 2.15 pm, Swathi still stood by her statements, following which the judges directed her to appear before the court again on Wednesday, with a direction to the police to continue to provide her and her family with protection. During the break, Swathi, who is pregnant, was taken for a medical examination within the court campus.

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