Sumathi and Ganesan had been busy with preparations for their daughter Soumya’s engagement when they heard the news – she had been raped and was fighting for her life in a hospital. When the 23-year-old succumbed to her injuries five days later, the whole State knew the story of how a woman on her way home from work was assaulted, pushed off a train, and raped.
Soumya was a store assistant at a shop in Kochi and was making her way home to Manjakkad, near Shoranur, in the women’s compartment of the Ernakulam-Shoranur express on February 1, 2011. Soon after the train left Vallathol Nagar station around 8.30 p.m., passengers saw a woman falling off the train and alerted the authorities. They searched near the railway tracks to find the unconscious woman lying in a pool of her own blood in the woods near the train station. She had severe head injuries and broken bones.
Police investigations focused on finding a man with only one arm who had been seen at the railway station and in the train in suspicious circumstances. As medical examinations revealed the brutal rape Soumya had been subjected to, police arrested Govindachamy, a beggar who had been seen around the station. DNA samples and traces of semen on Soumya’s body and clothes linked him to the murder and rape.
Public outrage followed as details of the crime emerged. The case was taken up on June 6, 2011 at the fast track court in Thrissur and a clear picture of the crime came out. The ladies compartment of the train in which Soumya was sitting had emptied at the station before Vallathol Nagar. Govindachamy entered the compartment and tried to snatch Soumya’s purse. When she resisted, he smashed her head against the wall and threw her out of the train during the scuffle. He then leapt out, took the severely injured Soumya to the woods and raped her. There was plenty of evidence linking Govindachamy to the crime. He also had been imprisoned several times on different crimes in Tamil Nadu.
But the case was not without its share of drama. The lawyers from Mumbai who arrived to defend Govindachamy generated a lot of discussion. This led to the speculation that he had the backing of a larger criminal gang. Thrissur Medical College forensic department assistant professor A.K. Unmesh stirred up a storm when he said he had performed the postmortem examination and not Sherley Vasu, head of the department. The allegation cast doubts over the veracity of the report. Ultimately, on November 11, the court sentenced Govindachamy, the lone accused in the case, to death. The sentence was greeted with jubilation outside the court and elsewhere in the State.
Railway officials pledged to put in more safety measures in trains. Safety of women during travel was discussed all over the State.
Two years later, the situation remains much the same.