A special court in Kerala on Wednesday sentenced 13 persons to seven years’ imprisonment for lynching an Adivasi man in Palakkad district in 2018, Live Law reported.

The man, Madhu, was beaten up by a mob on February 22, 2018, on the suspicion that he had stolen rice and curry powder from local shops. The accused persons had recorded their actions on their mobile phones.

The accused persons later handed over Madhu to the police, who took him to a hospital. However, authorities at the hospital said that he was brought in dead.

A special court under the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act on Tuesday found 14 persons guilty in the case. On Wednesday, the court sentenced 13 of them to rigorous imprisonment for seven years for culpable homicide not amounting to murder.

The 13 persons sentenced to seven years in jail are Hussein, Marakkar, Shamsudheen, Radhakrishnan, Aboobacker, Siddique, Ubaid, Najeeb, Jaijumon, Sajeev, Satheesh and Hareesh.

The court also sentenced the 14th person convicted in the case – Muneer – to simple imprisonment for three months and imposed a fine of Rs 500 on him. He was held guilty only under Section 352 of the Indian Penal Code (punishment for assault or using criminal force). As Muneer had already completed the jail term before the verdict, the court directed that he should be released on paying the fine.

Special Judge KM Retheesh Kumar remarked: “This is the first mob lynching case in God’s Own Country. Let it be last such case.”

The counsel for the accused persons sought a lenient sentence, saying that many of them were the sole breadwinners of their families. However, the court did not accept the argument, according to Live Law.

“This court is bound to respect the life of Madhu just like the life of any other citizen in this country,” the court said. “Our constitution guarantees equal right to life for each and every citizen in India irrespective of their social status.”

The judge said that the accused persons had assumed the role of moral police. “Such moral policing can never be encouraged in a civilised society,” it said. “Unless instances of such moral policing is deprecated by awarding adequate sentence.”

The prosecution had argued that the accused persons had a common objective to murder Madhu. However, the court held that their objective was only to injure him and hand him over to the police.

“Does any prudent man who wanted to kill a person will bring that person and entrust that person to Police by causing some injury? Not at all,” the judge said.

The court also noted that one of the accused persons gave Madhu a banana and another one gave him a cup of juice before they handed him over to the police. The judge said that these acts of the accused persons “showed that even now there exists remnants [of] humanitarian consideration in the mind of the accused” and that they can be reformed.

“It is to be bear in mind that every saint has a past and every sinner has a future,” Judge Retheesh Kumar said. The judge said that for these reasons, he was not awarding the maximum punishment to the accused persons.

Also read:

A killing jolted Kerala five years ago. Did it change anything?