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HC order in Scarlett case restores women’s faith in Indian judiciary

More than 11 years after British teenager Scarlett Keeling was sexually abused and murdered on the Anjuna beach, justice has been done to her departed soul and her family. A division bench of the Bombay High Court at Goa has sentenced Samson D’Souza, one of the two accused for causing her unnatural death, to 10 years imprisonment. He was found to have left her to die after drugging and sexually abusing her. Scarlett’s body was found on the beach on February 18, 2008. The High Court found that wrong and unsound conclusions were made by the Goa Children’s Court which acquitted both the accused in 2016 and overturned its order. The death of Scarlett was of serious domestic and international concern; it made Goa appear as a dangerous tourist destination. The performance of the state police in handling the case was severely criticised. The state police were accused of misleading her mother and trying to bury the case as accidental death. Her mother, Fiona MacKeown pointed out various lapses on the part of the state police, including their failure to collect crucial evidence. She demanded that the case be treated as murder and insisted on a second autopsy. 

Goa’s image was further dented when the state government covered up the police line of investigation and even tried to put the blame of the tragedy on the mother. Finally it was media and public pressure that forced the government to make the state police conduct a second autopsy and hand over the case to the Central Bureau of Investigation. The CBI did a fresh investigation and collected enough evidence to prosecute the accused but it suffered a setback with the Children’s Court acquitting them. However, the High Court found that the Children’s Court ignored cogent, trustworthy and reliable evidence of the witnesses coupled with medical evidence which corroborated the fact that the victim was under the influence of narcotic drugs and alcohol. The High Court judgement pointed out various lapses in the children’s court order, describing it as miscarriage of justice.

The High Court judgement will go a long way in restoring the faith of female foreign tourists in particular and women in general in the Indian judiciary. The judgement will inspire hope for justice in the hearts of several female foreign tourists who have been sexually assaulted and among the families of those who were sexually assaulted and murdered. A middle-aged British woman was raped and robbed in Canacona by a man hailing from Tamil Nadu last December. Though the rapist was arrested he managed to escape from the police custody but was captured again. An Irish-British dual national was raped and murdered in Canacona and a local hooligan was arrested for involvement in the case. A motorcyclist was accused of raping a foreigner on the outskirt of Panaji during the night hours in the recent past. There are scores of cases of foreigners dying in Goa, many of them termed unnatural and accidental. Families of the foreigners who have died of unnatural causes have questioned the manner in which the probes have been conducted by the state police.

The Scarlett case has dented the state police’s image. They need to make good what they have lost by conducting a professional and thorough investigation in each of the cases where female foreigners have been a victim. That the state police were casual and unprofessional in probing Scarlett’s murder could be seen from the fact that there were 50 injuries or bruises on her body and the postmortem had revealed presence of drugs such as Ecstasy, cocaine and LSD in her body with evidence of sexual assault. Despite such clear evidence the police tried to pass off the case as death due to drowning. The police let down not only the family of the victim but also Goans who hate to see their state in a horrible portrait as a place where women are not safe. The Goa police must become  wholly professional to gain back the trust of all women– women not only from foreign countries but also women from other parts of India as well as women of Goa.

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