Satisfied with judgment but can’t say I’m happy: Soumya’s mother
A Delhi court on Saturday awarded life imprisonment for the four accused who killed Soumya Vishwanathan on September 30, 2008
A little over 15 years ago, Madhavi Vishwanathan’s world turned upside down and she lost her younger daughter to a brutal murder in south Delhi on a September morning. Madhavi, now 74, has never stopped thinking about her child — the 25-year-old television journalist Soumya Vishwanathan — who was killed while four men were trying to rob her at Nelson Mandela Marg.
Over 300 court hearings later, and a heart that continued to mourn, Madhavi said on Saturday: “I am satisfied with the judgment, but I cannot say that I am happy... What I want is my daughter back but she cannot come back.” Madhavi said it was the judgment she had hoped for.
A Delhi court on Saturday awarded life imprisonment for the four accused who killed Soumya on September 30, 2008. Madhavi said that her husband MK Vishwanathan, who was present for most of the hearings along with her, is now in the intensive care unit of a hospital as he recently underwent a bypass surgery.
Tearing up outside the courtroom, she said that her elder daughter, who works in Nairobi, has come to Delhi and is with her father. “My daughter is with him in the ICU, and they are watching the judgment... But I am unable to register what is happening,” said Madhavi.
Soumya, who worked with a private channel, was shot dead in her car while she was returning home from work, between 3.25 am and 3.55 am.
On October 18, the prosecution had proven the case through scientific evidence, testimonies of witnesses and the confessional statement of one of the accused. Ravi Kapoor, Amit Shukla, Ajay Kumar and Baljeet Malik, were found guilty of the murder. The four were sentenced to life imprisonment and another life sentence under the sections of the Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act (MCoCA). The court directed that the two life sentences would run consecutively.
In addition to the sentences the court also imposed a fine of ₹1.25 lakhs on each of the four convicts, out of which ₹1.2 lakh would be given to Soumya’s family. The fifth convict — Ajay Sethi — was sentenced to three years in prison and a fine of ₹7.25 lakh.
The court held that four of the five accused were guilty of murdering Soumya and convicted them under sections 302 (murder) and 34 (acts done by several persons in furtherance of common intention) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and further convicted them under section 3(1)(i) of MCoCA as well.
On October 18, after the court found the four accused guilty, she told HT, “We are against the death penalty. We want them to get life imprisonment… we want them to suffer like we are suffering.” She added that her husband had a feeling that they would be convicted on the day. At the time, MK Vishwanathan had said, “There’s no happiness... I will never get my daughter back.”
On Saturday, she hoped that this would be the last time that she would be in the court, fighting for justice. She said, “We want it to be a deterrent to others. It’s been 15 years since we are fighting for justice... I can only hope that this is the last time we have to come here,” said Madhavi.
A blind case
For the investigating teams, Saturday’s verdict came as a sigh of relief after years of roadblocks in dealing with a case that lacked evidence, eyewitnesses, or motive.
On September 30, 2008, a PCR van first spotted Soumya’s mangled Zen car at 3.55am at pillar number 78 of Nelson Mandela Marg. The car had crashed into the central verge and she was lying unconscious on the driver’s seat with blood oozing. A bag and phone were found inside the car. The phone rang and a police officer answered it. It was Soumya’s father. She was rushed to the hospital but was declared dead on arrival.
What initially appeared to be an accident turned into a murder case after the autopsy, which confirmed a bullet wound. With no leads to follow, police started with the only thing they had — the crime scene.
“While this case was important, it was also blind. Twenty-two dedicated teams were formed to cover all aspects and gather scientific evidence. There were around 164 witnesses. The case had its peculiar sensitivities and needed deft handling in multiple ways. A large number of persons were questioned in this case . 125 witnesses were cited in the charge sheet,” said special commissioner of police HGS Dhaliwal, who led the probe at the time.
The teams were tasked with forensics assistance, simulations, collecting evidence, tracing the victim’s route, retracing probable routes adopted by the killers, collecting dump data, analysing call details of all 122 contacts of the victim and studying other similar cases.
Ballistic tests were done there was no conclusive evidence as a country-made pistol was used. Dhaliwal said that traffic forensics also played an important role in the investigation.
The breakthrough came after the team solved Jigisha Ghosh’s murder (committed six months after Soumya’s) and one of the accused confessed to killing Soumya as well.
Around 4.30am on March 18, 2009, Jigisha — an operations manager with Hewitt Associates in Noida — was killed during a robbery bid by the same men. One of the accused was caught on CCTV while taking her credit card.
However, officials said that a simple confession was hardly enough to implicate or even file a chargesheet against the accused.
There was also a detailed examination of medical evidence and discussions with autopsy surgeons, which helped place the accused in the spotlight during the trial.
The bullet was recovered from Soumya’s body that later also matched in ballistics with the shells recovered from the accused, said Dhaliwal.
It was only after the chargesheet was filed that the real task began for the police — not just in providing evidence but also helping the prosecution with evidence and witnesses.
“It is very difficult to get a conviction in India, especially in blind cases like this one. What worked for us was to keep regularly in touch with the family and brief them about every little detail. Parents were coopted and participated in daily review meetings at Vasant Kunj police station. We kept in touch with the prosecutor, briefed him, and helped him with deposing witnesses,” said Dhaliwal.
He added that there was not a single day when the case was not reviewed or followed up. The police went a step ahead to steel its arguments in court by involving a team of experts.
“An in-house legal team comprising experienced officers was assigned with duty as a defence team to find loopholes in the investigation. “Fifteen teams were formed only to collect evidence for MCoCA charges. One dedicated officer was tasked for follow-up of the case till the completion of the trial. He was tasked with informing every significant development during the trial to the family and the supervisory officers even though they were posted out of South Distt and were no longer directly supervising the follow up. This turned out to be one of the key factors in ensuring conviction by providing much needed continuity,” added Dhaliwal. He added that the support of the family made it possible to get a conviction despite little physical evidence.