After spending more than 21 years behind bars, a woman was finally exonerated from the charge of killing her three-month-old son.
Acquitting Sindhu Satpute, the Bombay high court observed: “The prosecution has failed to prove the offence punishable under Section 302 [murder] of the IPC beyond reasonable doubt. Consequently, benefit of doubt must go in favour of the appellant/accused.”
Satpute, who was 20-year-old then, had gone missing from her house in Kolwan Taluka in Pune in October 1988. The police traced Satpute, but her parents disowned her, as she was pregnant without being married.
Satpute was admitted at Kusumbai Motilal Mahila Sevagram where she delivered a boy on January 14, 1989. She was put up in Baba Section of the mahila ashram.
On April 21, 1989, the staff of mahila ashram heard a baby crying. On searching, they found Satpute’s son lying at some distance below the window of Baba Section. The child was rushed to the Sasoon Hospital where he breathed his last; the post-mortem report showed that fracture of skull bones led to his death.
Secretary of the mahila ashram Saroj Tikakar questioned Satpute, who confessed to having thrown the child from the window, as she wanted to avoid further responsibility of bringing him up.
The prosecution case was based on circumstantial evidence and Satpute’s extra-judicial confession. The sessions court convicted Satpute on April 2, 1990, for murdering her child and sentenced her to life imprisonment.
Satpute challenged her conviction before the high court. Advocate Ameeta Kuttikrishnan, who was appointed from the legal aid panel to defend her, argued that the panchnama (document giving details of scene of crime) showed
that the window of the
Baba Section of the mahila ashram had seven horizontally placed iron bars at a distance of only five inches.
Kuttikrishnan argued that whatever might be the strong suspicion against Satpute to do away with the child, suspicion cannot take the place
of proof in absence of any evidence.
Agreeing with the arguments, a division bench of justice AM Khanwilkar and justice AR Joshi observed that “The sessions judge had erred in accepting the circumstance of alleged extra-judicial confession and ignored the factual position that it was highly improbable that a three-month-old child could be thrown out of the window having horizontal iron bars having opening of only five inches from each other.”
Also, Satpute had allegedly confessed only after sustained questioning by the secretary of the mahila ashram.
The judges observed: “It is possible that the appellant must have owned the responsibility out of distress. In our view,
without there being any independent corroboration and possibility beyond reasonable doubt that the child could be thrown out of the window of
Baba Section, the alleged extra-judicial confession would be of no avail.”
The court has also directed that Satpute be immediately released from the Yerawada Central Prison where she is lodged, unless required in other case.