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The Sunanda Pushkar case is a travesty of justice

Shashi Tharoor is a doubly cursed man. First, he tragically lost his wife, and then to compound his misery, he found himself defending his innocence in the matter of her death. These tragic circumstances are largely in part due to a bungled-up investigation and an equally unfair prosecution that has lasted for nearly a decade. 

As a criminal lawyer who trusts the resilience of our judiciary, it saddens me that the Sunanda Pushkar case has turned into a textbook example of the criminal justice system being complicit in aggravating and extending a family’s grief and trauma, while doing absolutely nothing to honour the memory of the deceased person by uncovering the truth. 

Please bear with me. 

In an article I had written for the Times of India 6 years ago, I had been severely critical of the shoddy investigation that had deliberately ignored vital pieces of exculpatory evidence that had confirmed Pushkar’s cause of death as being due to a toxic pharmacological reaction – and not suicide or murder, as sections of the media had been quick to conclude at the time. I had also pointed out grave contradictions in the statements made by the forensic specialists at AIIMS who had conducted the botched up autopsy – including facts which had emerged later about the shameful internal political ‘score-settling’ that the doctors were caught up in. 

I had concluded my piece with an exhortation to the Delhi Police that it must conduct an honest probe and place all the unabridged facts before the Court and not permit selective leaks in the media to sensationalize the case. In fact, multiple observers had noticed that Tharoor’s incessant vilification in the media based on salacious innuendo rather than any actual material or facts that indicated his role in abetting Sunanda’s death, let alone any full blown culpability, only revealed a larger plot to mire him into controversy for obvious reasons. 

Tharoor was ultimately Charge-sheeted under IPC Sections 498A (cruelty by relative or husband of a woman) and 306 (abetment of suicide), and despite the passage of several years, the Court is yet to frame charges, which is the final step prior to the commencement of a trial, unless it decides to discharge him from the case for insufficient evidence. 

Now, seven long years after the incident, the case looks nowhere near any resolution. As I pointed out, the Court hasn’t even gotten around to deciding if the chargesheet holds any merit or not. Given what we know now about the case, based upon publicly available information, the Delhi Police ought to have filed a closure report rather than a chargesheet, which is premised upon incredible leaps of logic and shaky forensic reports. As the matter is still sub judice, it would be appropriate for me to restrict my analysis and opinion only to publicly reported aspects of the case and the enormous delay by the Court in deciding this issue one way or the other.  

To fully understand why I characterize this entire episode as a travesty of justice, one must thoroughly examine the Delhi Police’s case – revealed as it is by the utterances of its prosecutors in Court. In fact, and I am sorry to say this, but the Delhi Police has sunk to such depths that they have permitted semantics and wordplay to overtake common-sense and overrule science. The fact is that there was no evidence available, direct or indirect, to even remotely suggest that Sunanda took her own life – and the Chargesheet bears testament to this fact. No corroborative material, like a suicide note or a message to a loved one or friend, was ever found that could support the theory of suicide. 

Their entire case, that Tharoor abetted his wife’s supposed suicide, rests upon unsubstantiated conclusions drawn from the toxicology report of her autopsy. The report uses the term “poisoning,” which the prosecution mischievously interprets to argue that she was administered poison. They have done this, perhaps, because they are aware that there is neither motive nor material to indicate that she “poisoned” herself. Having an adverse reaction to prescription medication is one thing – but the Police jumping to call it an incident of ‘poisoning’ is quite another. 

Rather, the term poisoning is merely used in forensic-science to describe the ingestion of a substance that leads to a toxic reaction in the body – the term is not used to indicate the existence of either an externality or a motive, that caused it to be ingested in the first place. It is my assumption that the masterminds behind the prosecution must have been aware of this weakness in their case – and thus their clever insertion of the ‘cruelty’ provision to drive home their suicide theory. 

The very fact that the prosecution had itself failed to establish any conclusive cause of death even after 4 years of an investigation, if one can call it that, compels one to view their suicide theory with extreme suspicion. 

The conduct of the Delhi Police and its Prosecutors has been less than fair in this case. One might dislike Tharoor or disagree with his brand of politics – as some might – but to simply stand by while he suffers the trauma of an abjectly unjust prosecution would be anathema to anyone who believes in the rule of law. 

I am reminded of the late Chief Justice PN Bhagwati’s words in a landmark Constitutional Bench judgment, that highlighted the need for a scrupulously honest and fair prosecution: “The Public Prosecutor is not a Persecutor. He is the representative not of an ordinary party to a controversy, but of a sovereignty whose obligation to govern impartially is as compelling as its obligation to govern at all, and whose interest, therefore, in a criminal prosecution is not that it shall win a case, but that justice shall be done.” 

Alas, this is a case where the prosecutors have most cruelly abetted the delay, denial and denigration of justice. 



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Disclaimer

Views expressed above are the author’s own.



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