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Indian Case Summary

Palani Goundan vs Unknown on 7 April, 1919 – Case Summary

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In the case of Palani Goundan vs Unknown, heard on 7th April 1919, the Madras High Court was faced with a complex situation involving the death of a woman, Ramayee, and the subsequent actions of her husband, the accused, Palani Goundan. The case was presided over by a bench consisting of J Wallis, S Aiyar, and C Trotter, with Napier, J. delivering the order.

Facts of the Case

The accused, Palani Goundan, was convicted of the murder of his wife, Ramayee. The evidence presented showed that on 23rd October 1918, Ramayee was seen weeping, claiming that her husband had beaten her. Later that evening, two relatives of Ramayee arrived at the couple’s house and found her lying dead on the floor with a plowshare nearby. The accused claimed that Ramayee had hanged herself. However, medical evidence revealed that Ramayee had received a severe blow to the head, likely rendering her unconscious, and died of strangulation, possibly due to hanging.

Issues and Court Observations

The court had to determine whether the accused’s actions constituted murder under Section 299 and Section 300 of the Indian Penal Code. The court found that the accused had struck his wife with the plowshare, rendering her unconscious, but it was not established that this blow was likely to cause death. The court also found that the accused hanged his wife soon after, under the impression that she was already dead, intending to create false evidence of suicide.

The court grappled with the question of whether this act constituted murder. The court noted that the accused intended to cause bodily injury by hanging, whether the body was alive or dead. However, it was suggested that there is a necessary limitation, namely, that the person on whom the bodily injury is inflicted must be a person who is, to the knowledge of the accused, capable of being killed. Therefore, if the accused thinks that the person is already dead, he cannot be convicted of culpable homicide.

The court referred to several previous cases, including Gour Gobindo Thakoor, In re 6 W.R.Cr. 55, Queen Empress v. Khandu 15 B. 194, and Emperor v. Dalu Sardar 26 Ind. Cas. 157. However, the court found no clear guidance from these cases and decided to refer the question to a Full Bench for a definitive pronouncement.


The Full Bench concluded that the accused could not be convicted of murder or culpable homicide based on the facts of the case. They reasoned that the intention of the accused must be judged in light of what he supposed to be the circumstances, not the actual circumstances. Therefore, a man is not guilty of culpable homicide if his intention was directed only to what he believed to be a lifeless body. However, the accused could be punished for his original assault on his wife and for his attempt to create false evidence by hanging her.