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Justice denied: Bahraich man found not guilty of murder after 33 years in prison

Rohit Ghosh | Updated on: 13 February 2017, 6:44 IST

The case

  • Ram Raj, then a juvenile, was accused of murdering Krishnawati in 1979
  • The Bahraich sessions court tried him as an adult and convicted him in 1982

The delay

  • Ram Raj\'s lawyer filed an appeal in the high court in 1982 itself
  • The case came up for hearing 33 years later, and he was exonerated in the first hearing itself

More in the story

  • How the police goofed up
  • How the justice system failed Ram Raj

We've often heard that justice delayed is justice denied. On that basis, the legal system of India has certainly denied justice to one Ram Raj of Bahraich district, Uttar Pradesh.

Way back in 1982, a lower court found Ram Raj, then a juvenile, guilty of murder and sentenced him to life imprisonment. Now, 33 years later, the Lucknow Bench of the Allahabad High Court has exonerated him of the charge, and that too, in the very first hearing.

The murder of Krishnawati

The story began in the Katkuaiya village in Bahraich on 17 December 1979, when Krishnawati, 60, went missing from her house.

Her son, Barati Lal, searched but failed to find her. The following day, Barati found her body in a field in the village. Her throat had been slit and the ornaments she was wearing were missing.

Barati lodged a complaint with the police, and accused Ram Raj, also a native of Katkuaiya, of the murder. Sub-inspector Hari Nath Tiwari of Hardi police station started investigating the case, and sent the body for post-mortem.

A few samples of earth were collected from the place where the body was found. Some of the samples were stained with blood.

Ram Raj was arrested, but denied any involvement in the murder. The police also recovered the missing ornaments.

Once the investigations were completed, Ram Raj was produced in the court of the first sessions judge of Bahraich, and the trial began. The court found him guilty and sentenced him to life imprisonment on 6 May 1982.

Ram Raj, a juvenile at the time of the incident, was tried and sentenced as an adult, and his advocate decided to appeal in the high court. From time to time, the court would grant him bail. But the appeal kept lingering.

The acquittal

Finally, on 14 September 2015, justices Arvind Kumar Tripathi and Ranjana Pandya of the Lucknow Bench of the Allahabad High Court appointed advocate Rajesh Dwivedi as amicus curiae in the case.

"The first hearing took place a month after my appointment, on 13 October 2015. Ram Raj was acquitted on the very first hearing," advocate Dwivedi told Catch. "Ram Raj is presently in Bahraich jail. He will soon be released."

Dwivedi said the court did not find any merit in the prosecution's accusations and, hence, acquitted Ram Raj.

"There were several lacunae. There was no chance of the case being argued further," said Dwivedi.

Where the cops goofed up

Dwivedi said: "The police got the body examined for evidence, but the post mortem report was never presented in the lower court. The doctor who did the post mortem was never produced in court, forget being cross-examined. An unnatural death means a post mortem report. Now if the post mortem report is absent it means that no homicide has taken place. So how can Ram Raj be charged with a homicide that has not taken place?"

He added that the bloodstained samples of earth obtained by the police were never sent for forensic examination.

Ram Raj was a juvenile when the supposed murder was committed, in 1979, but was tried as an adult

"Initially, the police had said Ram Raj had used a trowel to kill Krishnawati. But the weapon could never be recovered by the police. The justices noted in their judgment that they did not see any motive behind Ram Raj killing Krishnawati," Dwivedi said.

He said there were also discrepancies between the ornaments reported missing from Krishnawati's body and those which were later recovered by the police.

Justice denied

Call it the effect of Bollywood movies, but people seem to have the wrong notion about a life imprisonment.

"People generally think life imprisonment means being in prison for 14 years. But since a 1961 judgement of the Supreme Court, life imprisonment has meant being in jail till one's last breath," Dwivedi explained.

"Ram Raj should have been tried in a court meant for juveniles, and in case he was found guilty, he should have been sent to a jail meant for juveniles. But that did not happen," he said.

For 33 years, Ram Raj has suffered from a miscarriage of justice. Now, when he gets released, he'll be over 50 years of age. His whole life has passed paying for a crime he didn't commit.

First published: 24 October 2015, 9:28 IST