download-judgmentSupreme Court has upheld the death sentence awarded to a couple – Shabnam and Saleem, accused of a cold-blooded murder of the family members of the former by slitting their throats. The bench comprising of CJI HL Dattu and Justices SA Bobde and Arun Mishra observed that the crime had been committed in the most cruel and inhuman manner which was “extremely brutal, grotesque, diabolical and revolting”.

Incidently this is the second death sentence confirmation judgment pronounced by CJI HL Dattu in last eight days.


Background

Shabnam and Saleem (Image via The Telegraph)

Shabnam was a teacher by profession while Saleem was an uneducated youth of the same village. As per the prosecution, Shabnam and Saleem were involved in “a love affair and an illicit physical relationship” which was opposed by the family of Shabnam. Shabnam was pregnant at the time of offence and at present has a son of five years. The deceased of the crime committed on 14 April 2010 included the father, mother, younger brother, elder brother – his wife and their infant son, and cousin of accused Shabnam.


Planning and Commission of crime

Two villagers testified as to the confession of Saleem. As per the prosecution’s story Saleem brought 10 intoxicating tablets which Shabnam mixed in the tea of her family members. When the family members were unconscious, Saleem reached her house with the murder weapon and as Shabnam held the heads of her family members, Saleem kept cutting their necks one-by-one. Upon commission of crime, Saleem threw away the murder weapon in a pond. It has been put forth that Shabnam had herself throttled the infant.


Charge

The accused were charged under Sections 302 read with 34 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860, further Shabnam was charged separately under Section 302 of the IPC. The appellant-accused had denied their guilt and the case was committed to trial.

In their testimony, the accused denied the charges and rather alleged each other of the offence.


Trial Court

After considering the evidence and testimonies of the witnesses, Trial Court concluded that the link in chain of events having been established and corroborated unquestionably confirmed the guilt of accused for the brutal murder of seven persons. Court thereby convicted them for offence under Sections 302 read with 34 of the IPC and terming the offence as “rarest of the rare”, sentenced both of them to death.


High Court

Hearing the Death Sentence Reference (Capital Reference No. 8 of 2010) and the Appeals of the accused (Capital Cases Nos. 5003 and 5245 of 2010),  Allahabad High Court on 26 April 2013 upheld the death sentence awarded by the trial court. It held:

“Shabnam’s pregnancy and subsequent delivery of child, no ground for reducing sentence. It was also contended that Shabnam was carrying a child in her womb whom she has delivered in jail and who would be orphaned if the appellants are executed. In most murder cases the accused have minor children, or aged parents or a spouse who would be bereaved if the convict is executed. This according to the Supreme Court in Sevaka Perumal v State of Tamil Nadu, 1991 Cri.L.J. 845 (SC) cannot provide a legitimate reason for not awarding the death penalty, if the case is one, where looking to the heinous nature of the crime and the criminal a death penalty is the only appropriate sentence.”


Supreme Court

Supreme Court while hearing the appeals of the accused, appointed advocate Dushyant Parashar as amicus curiae, who made his submissions in regard to the question of sentence. The amicus submitted before the Court that death sentence was not an apt sentence inter alia on the grounds that the entire case of the prosecution was based entirely on circumstantial evidence and considering that the accused were of young age and were under mental stress.


Discussion

Referring to the previous decisions of the Supreme Court, bench observed that the most significant aspect of sentencing policy in Indian criminal jurisprudence regarding award of death penalty is that life sentence is a rule and death sentence is an exception only to be awarded in “rarest of rare cases.” It further observed:

Death sentence must be imposed only when life imprisonment appears to be an altogether inadequate punishment having regard to the relevant circumstances of the crime, and provided the option to impose sentence of imprisonment for life cannot be conscientiously exercised having regard to the nature and circumstances of the crime and all the relevant circumstances.

Bench observed that the guidelines and principles for classification of circumstances and determination of the culpability indicia has been laid down by SC in Ramnaresh v. State of Chhattisgarh, (2012) 4 SCC 257.


Important Observations

Discussing the improved situation of gender equality and value of a daughter, bench observed:

The Indian legal system today does not differentiate between a son and a daughter- they have equal rights and duties. Indian culture has been witness to for centuries, that daughters dutifully bear the burden of being the caregivers for her parents, even more than a son.

The modern era, led by the dawn of education, no longer recognizes the stereotype that a parent would want a son so that they have someone to look after them and support them in their old age.

Discussing the gravity of the offence, bench noted:

Of all the crimes that shock the souls of men, none has ever been held in greater abhorrence than parricide, which is by all odds the most complete and terrible inversion, not alone of human nature but of brute instinct.

Bench observed that Shabnam was brought up in an educated and independent environment by her family and was respectfully employed as teacher but influenced by the love and lust of her paramour, committed brutal parricide exterminating seven lives including that of an innocent child.

It is however shocking that at the pink of their youth, the couple indulged in such debased act of multiple murders driven by infatuation and exhibited no remorse.


Death sentence upheld

Confirming the death sentence to the couple, Supreme Court held:

Therefore, as the instant case requires us to award a punishment that is graduated and proportioned to the crime, we have reached the inescapable conclusion that the extreme culpability of both the appellants-accused makes them the most deserving for death penalty.

Image above has been taken from here and the Copyright of the same vests with The Telegraph.

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