Wednesday, 16 May 2012

The Accused

Litigants were mumbling indistinctively around their lawyers and Sri K.S. Mishra, the District & Sessions Judge of Maldakhet District Court had not assumed his chair for the day yet. Varying temperatures across the Court hall had donned it with the flavours of the local fair ground. Litigants from diverse nook and cranny of the district were busy with their respective attorneys who invariably doled out optimistic assurances about the fate of their respective causes in the Court. Every lawyer told his client that he will win the case in a jiffy. The Court clock struck eleven and the disciplined judge Mishra emerged out of his chamber & rose up to the Bench. The orderly Hari simultaneously signaled everyone to stand up. Novice litigants, ignorant about the order of business in a Court of law immediately attempted to steal a word or two with their advocates who admonishingly signaled at them to keep shut. The judge made a quick ceremony of shutting his eyes and praying for divine guidance as he was about to deal with matters concerning liberty of men, their property, matrimony and numerous crucial facets that comprised their lives. He opened his saint like eyes and resumed his calm composure. He consumed a few moments to thoroughly survey his Court room for any anomalies, show of indiscipline or lack of courtesy. Luckily there were none. He stretched his left hand towards his clerk signalling him to start calling the matters in the order of their listing.

In the sleepy district of Maldakhet nothing sensational had ever occurred, at least not during Sri Mishra's tenure. But today was different. Judge Mishra was privy to the overwhelming sensations surrounding the case of State Vs. Sampat. He was staunchly aware of the viral proportions that his pronouncement on the said matter could assume, if he failed to handle it with subtlety. Sampat Kumar, the son of the once wealthy Zamindar Amrit babu, was facing trial for charges of stabbing his impoverished debtor Sathya to death. The weapon of offence had been recovered from the spot with Sampat's finger prints all over it. The Public Prosecutor wore a confident grin as he swore to put the accused away in jail for his life and send a reverberating message to the men of Madelkhat that he will hunt them down for their lawlessness. The outcome of this case had its own ramifications in the medieval minded community of Madelkhat. Sampat was paraded handcuffed into the Courtroom cordoned by uniformed men on both sides. For the entire distance from the Police van to the dock meant for accused persons inside the court, he did not for a moment raise his head. It hung down like a lifeless branch waiting to be blown away by a speeding gust. The bustle prevalent in the court receded into pin drop silence as everyone looked at Sampat, the murderer, with unconcealed awe. They scanned his ragged frame as if he were an alien captive among humans, probably wondering as to what had turned this once peace loving man into a demon. The judge cleared his throat and asked Sampat whether he would like to enter a plea of guilt. 'Not guilty', Sampat's lawyer answered for him. Thus began his trial.

The prosecution case was entirely circumstantial as there was no eye witness who had seen the accused committing the alleged crime. But the suave prosecutor moved ahead one step at a time. He established through the undisputed evidence of Amrit babu, Sampat's father, and other witnesses that Sathya had taken a hand loan of one lakh rupees from the former. He also succeeded in proving that on a few occasions, Amrit babu had publicly threatened Sathya with dire consequences if he did not repay the debt along with the due interest money. He elicited from the witnesses that the passage of about more than a year since the date fixed for final repayment had made the accused and his father impatient. "Your Honour, I have established a reasonably strong motive on the part of the the accused for doing away with the life of the deceased. Now if I have the permission of Your Honour, I'd examine the forensic expert." the prosecutor requested. "Granted" exclaimed the judge.

The State Forensic Laboratory's most senior examiner was summoned to the witness dock.

"What is your profession and what qualifies you to give scientific evidence in this Court?" inquired the prosecutor.

"Well, I'm employed as a senior forensic analyst at the State Forensic Laboratory and I have specialized in weapons as well as finger impression analysis." replied the witness.

"So, in your expert opinion, what caused the fatal wound of the deceased ? " continued the prosecutor.

The witness held the ten inch long kitchen knife, seized by the Police, for everyone to see and assertively declared "The wound on the body of the deceased has been caused by a sharp cutting instrument like the one I'm holding."

'And Your Honour is already aware that this knife was recovered from the spot with the blood of the deceased on it. So its well established that this particular knife has been used to murder the deceased.' the prosecutor quickly added.

"Have you personally examined the knife for any finger prints ?" asked the prosecutor.

"Yes, I have. I have thoroughly examined the fingerprints available on the knife and the fingerprints of the suspect.


"They are a complete match." exclaimed the witness. No sooner than the witness finished his last sentence, the courtroom broke into hisses and murmurs. The judge rapped his gavel ordering silence. The prosecutor strolled back confidently to his seat.

"Will the learned defence counsel cross examine the witness ? the judge asked Mahesh babu, the defence counsel.

"Yes". He cracked his knuckles as he gingerly walked up to the witness. He shot a affable smile at him and began cordially

"Mr. Patnaik.......Right ?"


"Could you tell this Court Mr. Patnaik, as to whether there would be a difference between a self inflicted wound and a wound caused on a person's body by another man."

"Yes there would be."

"When you say that the wound which led to the death of the deceased was caused by the knife seized by the Police from the spot, is it possible that the said wound could have been self inflicted, by using the same knife?"

Patnaik began fidgeting and felt a trickle of sweat finding its way from his brow to his chin. He blurted "Yes it is possible."
"Do you, in your expert opinion, completely rule out the possibility of the wound having been self inflicted by the deceased" the defence counsel probed sharply.

The prosecutor shot up to his feet and began yelling "irrelevant, irrelevant". The judge calmly ordered him to sit down and asked the advocate to continue with his cross. "Ok Mr. Patnaik we'll leave it at that. Do you want water ?', he asked with unmistakable courtesy. 'No' came the witness's reply.
"Alright Mr. Patnaik, just one more question before you leave." Mahesh babu assured the witness. The words " last" & "leave" brought an ostensible expression of relief to the witness's facial contours.

"Will you kindly tell the Court as to how many set of finger prints, you identified on the knife ?" asked Mahesh babu. The prosecutor lost his temper and made no effort to conceal it this time. He banged the table infront of him and demanded that the defence lawyer should be prohibited to ask such baseless questions when the witness has already answered that he found the fingerprints of the accused on the knife.

Mahesh babu slowly truned around and gently stated "Your Honour my learned friend is forgetting that the witness has said that he found the fingerprints of the accused. Never for once, did he say that those were the only prints existent on the knife. So you see, I'm just trying to put my curiosity to rest. All the witness has to say is that whether he found only the fingerprints of the accused and the matter will end there." He turned back to the witness and repeated his question. But silence was all he got, until the mercurial judge Mishra lost his cool and roared "What happened, cat got your tongue ? Why don't you answer the man's simple question ?

"No" came the stunning reply of the witness. He elucidated that he had detected another set of prints and when he ran a check on 'em, he found that those belonged to the deceased.

'Nothing further.' said Mahesh, Sampat's counsel and started walking back to resume his seat. He gave a reassuring glance at Sampat, who seemed to be lost in distant thoughts while he dug his eyes into the ground beneath his feet. The prosecutor got up, regained his composure and announced 'The State now calls Smt. Malati Naik as its next witness."

After she was administered oath by the clerk, the prosecutor queried

'How are you related to the deceased ?

'I'm not. I'm only his neighbour.' she replied.
'I see ! ! So how far do you live from Sampat's house ?'

'At about a distance of ten to fifteen feet.'

'Tell us what happened that night.'

'I was going to meet Sathya's wife to borrow some milk for my daughter, when I saw Sampat walking out of his house with bloody hands. I saw him pull out a bottle of country made whiskey and gulp down its fiery contents. He then walked away like a zombie and blended into the neighboring darkness. The Police found him an hour later, senseless under a Bakul tree near the Kashuki river.'

'Nothing further Your Honour.' exclaimed the prosecutor and went back to his chair.

"Have you ever interacted with the accused ?' Mahesh babu asked Ms Naik, seizing his turn for cross examination.

'Of course I have, he's my co villager'

'Can you tell us from your memory whether the behaviour which you just ascribed to him on the spot of occurence, is his usual one.'

'No. It isn't' she gave an instant reply. 'He's quite well behaved and sober. I'd never seen him before in such a state like the one he was in, that night'

'What state?' Mahesh babu questioned sincerely.

"Well. That night when I saw him walking out of the deceased's house, I greeted him. But he didn't respond. I called his name repeatedly, still he walked dead deaf. When finally he turned belatedly, I caught his moist eyes. They were red and totally immersed in tears." she concluded. As the defence counsel had nothing else to ask her, she was excused by the judge.

The prosecutor then called the final witness to testify against the accused. He announced the name of Jharana Devi. Jharana Devi was the widow of the victim. For the first time since he had walked into the courtroom, Sampat slowly raised his head and fixed his eyes at the entrance. His eyes exhibited signs of life in them at the mention of Jharana Devi's name. One could say from his look that if at all he had any hope from anybody, it wasn't the judge or his own advocate but from his victim's wife. The judge noticed her anxiety and assured her of the law's protection in the event of her speaking truth and nothing but the truth. The prosecutor began by offering his sincere condolences to her for her profound loss. He requested her to gather her composure reminding her of the great importance of the words she intends to speak there.

'Tell us what happened ..take as much time as you need, but tell us in detail. Go on.'

Jharana Devi looked in Sampat's direction . Their eyes met for a brief moment and then left each other.

'My husband had borrowed one lakh rupees from Sampat babu's father, for paying my medical expenses when I was diagnosed with a tumor in my stomach and an urgent operation had become the need of the hour. However our only source of income, our fields, betrayed us season after season. He couldn't repay the loan and often Sampat babu came to our door for collecting the interest money.'

'So they also charged interest, huh ?' the prosecutor blurted, giving off a disgusted glance at the judge almost invoking similar reaction from him. 'Did you pay the interest ?' he asked.


'And the principal...any part of it ?'


'Your Sampat Babu must have got furious, didn't he ? '

There was a brief silence whereafter Jharana Devi began again 'Not at all. On the contrary he never even spoke a word. He would come, stand by the door and when one of us opened it, he would wait for a moment to gather that no payment was forthcoming and then he would simply walk away. After several visits, he one day assured me that he'll pay us one lakh rupees which we shall pay to his father. He also told me that his loan shall be interest free, so that it would easier for us to repay the money. He wanted to talk to my husband about it but since he wasn't there at that time, he asked me not to speak about it to my husband, as he first needed to ensure that he can arrange for one lakh rupees to give us' . Her testimony had induced nodding of several heads in the audience in agreement as they all knew the Samaritan ways of the accused.

The prosecutor unable to gather the intention of his witness, asked her, in an unsure fashion, to skip all this and narrate the incident which took place on the fateful day.
She looked up at the judge and narrated 'Sahib, that afternoon Amrit babu came to our house with a couple of angry looking men and threatened my husband that if he did not pay the money by nightfall then his son would come and finish our entire family. My husband began trembling after they left. ...Sahib, I pleaded a lot with him that Sampat babu is a nice man and he shall do us no harm. But his fear got the better of him. In the evening he came home, drunk out of his senses, swearing in all kind of filthy utterings. When I returned from the market, I found him sitting on our cot, holding our kitchen knife menacingly. Sensing his intentions, I attempted to dissuade him to give up the knife, but he got so annoyed that he landed a sudden blow on my face knocking me off a couple of feet. I heard him murmuring "I'll fix the father son duo once and for all."

She paused, gesturing for a glass of water which was immediately handed over to her by Sampat's counsel, and then she continued;

'I heard a familiar knock on our door and before I could stand up on my feet, I saw my husband rush like a madman to the door. As soon as he saw Sampat babu, he brandished the dagger aiming at his heart. Then like flashes of a nightmare one thing led to another, Sampat babu desperately escaping my husband's attacks one after another. Then all of a sudden, my husband swayed his body uncontrollably and with a loud thud landed on the ground. His body shuddered and his scream got caught somewhere in his throat and never came out. Within moments he became still. Sampat babu rushed near him and turned his body around and made him face up. ...... The knife had slit his heart Sahib .... ' She sobbed incessantly in the silence of the court room. None said a word.

'Sampat babu carefully withdrew the knife from his chest. But my husband had already breathed his last.' She again broke into uncontrolable sobbing, but managed to say, what according to her was the most important thing to say. 'Sampat babu was drunk too. I could sense that. He rushed out of our house to call for help. But not before giving me a wad of thousand rupee notes which I later counted to one lakh rupees. He never returned with help though. When he handed me the money he said "My father will still not leave you. Give this to him".
Even the walls of the court hall appeared as if they had been caught by utter shock at the willingness of a murdered man's wife to salvage her husband's alleged slayer. Slanderous speculations about her chastity were imminent. Evading eye contact with most of the audience who glanced at her sarcastically, she testified the truth and nothing but the truth. The courtroom remained blanketed by thick silence. Somebody coughed and the judge excused Jharana Devi from the witness box, but not before a dumbfounded prosecutor had expressed his decision not to declare her hostile or cross examine her. The judge pronounced Sampat to be Not Guilty and set him at liberty, who did not seemed to be overjoyed about it, the way his family members and peers were. He wanted to meet and thank Jharana Devi but she was nowhere to be found. The local daily published a front page report next day on the case, its dramatic dimensions and the verdict in favour of the accused.


( "The Accused" is a work of fiction and any resemblance to any person (alive or dead), place or incident is coincidental.)


  1. Good tale, Anupam and well-narrated. The only thing is how did the case get to court..why didn't Jharana Devi tell the story to the police or the prosecutor? It would be better if you tied that loose end up...say, if she were also injured and unconscious and only recovered around the time the case happened.

    1. Whenever a death occurs under unnatural circumstances, as in any other crime, Police has to register a case and start an investigation. It wouldn't suffice even if the greatest well wisher of that person came forward and said that nobody has killed the deceased and he died accidentally. The Police has no option to close the case. It must do its best investigation and forward the case to the Court where during trial the truth shall be unearthed. So you see it would have made no difference even if Jharana would have said to the Police that her husband got killed accidentally and Sampat was innocent. The Police would've never taken a chance and closed the close, atleast never in a case of unnatural death athat's how this case came to the Court.

      You must understand one thing Surech ji, more often than not witnesses, due to myriad reasons, supress the truth. In this case she did it out of fear of being misunderstood as being supportive of the alleged murderer of the husband. I have conveyed it latently. I deliberately depicted Jharana as someone who belatedly narrated the truth about the incident.

      Thank you so much for reading my story and giving a review for it

    2. When I said "how did it get to court" what I meant was how it got to court as a case of wilful murder and not why the case was taken up by the court at all...though I could have been clearer about it in my comment! My point is answered by your second para. I think, however, that the story may be improved if that reluctance is made clearer..though that is a personal opinion and not meant as any major criticism!

    3. Yeah, I should have got that.

      Anyways even if you would have criticized I'd hv been equally glad 'cuz I'd have seen the brighter side of it i.e. constructively, since it wud hv come from a splendid writer like you. And I agree that the portrayal of Jharana's reluctance could have been much much better.

      Suresh ji, do read a few of my other stories in my blog. Your opinion would be profoundly material in improving my writing skills.

  2. Conveying the crux of the story latently added a touch of enigma, and to me that ws something to b appreciated. Neways, to each his own.
    Good work again. My comments r getting repetitive LOl.