Recent SC ruling throws light on age-old question: Can lack of ‘genuine emotions’ be equated with criminal intent?

The apex court highlighted a very important question of judging a situation, motive or an act of person through the lens of ‘emotions’ which is so idiosyncratic that no general rules can be set for its standardization.

Shishir Tripathi November 01, 2018 17:13:18 IST
Recent SC ruling throws light on age-old question: Can lack of ‘genuine emotions’ be equated with criminal intent?

The brutal killing of 14-year-old Aarushi Talwar in 2008 was compounded by the absurd. Aarushi was reading ‘The 3 Mistakes of My Life’ in the night of her murder. For police, it was an important clue, not for the forensic details — like fingerprints, but for deciding the character of the deceased.

Similarly, for proving the guilt of Nupur Talwar, mother of Aarushi, who along with her husband was charged for murder of their daughter, the investigators had clinching evidence: Nupur Talwar did not cry.

Nupur Talwar was ‘emotionless’ and did not look ‘grief-stricken’ which was evident from the fact that she did not cry. A decade after Nupur Talwar was tried for not crying at her child’s death, the Supreme Court acquitted a woman, who was convicted for the murder of her husband by trial court and later confirmed by the high court. Amongst several other reasons for her conviction, one was that she did not cry at her husband's death.

Recent SC ruling throws light on ageold question Can lack of genuine emotions be equated with criminal intent

File image of Nupur Talwar. PTI

Reena Hazarika was convicted for the murder of her husband that took place in 2013.

According to the judgment, the plea taken by the prosecution was the “the last seen theory” that establishes the presence of the appellant with the deceased at the night of murder. Also, “her unnatural conduct” evident from the fact that she was not crying, was used to prove that she was the assailant of the deceased.

The judgment states that the counsel for the state had submitted that the appellant was last seen with the deceased in the room and had failed to offer any explanation of the circumstances as to how the death occurred at night. The prosecution apart from providing the material and circumstantial evidence to hold her guilty, also stressed Hazarika’s “unnatural conduct” of “not even weeping”.

No matter how absurd this reasoning may be, the court, has to put the record straight. Stated, “Contrary to the statement of PW¬1, his brother, PW¬2 deposed that he was woken up at between 2 am and 3 am by the appellant who was crying and told him that her husband had suffered head injury.”

The apex court while setting aside the reasoning — that holds someone culpable because she did not cry at a mishappening, observed, “The fact that PW¬7 did not notice tears in the eyes of the appellant, deemed as unnatural conduct by the courts below, cannot be sufficient to draw an adverse inference of guilt against the appellant. The appellant being in a helpless situation may have been into a shock of disbelief at the death of her husband. It is not an uncommon human behaviour that at the death of a close relative, or upon witnessing a murderous assault, a person goes into complete silence and stupor showing no reaction or sensibility.”

The court, while allowing the appeal, held, “The entirety of the discussion, in the facts and circumstances of the case, the nature of evidence available coupled with the manner of its consideration, leaves us satisfied that the links in the chain of circumstances in a case of circumstantial evidence, cannot be said to have been established leading to the inescapable conclusion that the appellant was the assailant of the deceased, incompatible with any possibility of innocence of the appellant. The possibility that the occurrence may have taken place in some other manner cannot be completely ruled out. The appellant is, therefore, held entitled to acquittal on the benefit of doubt. We accordingly order the acquittal and release of the appellant from custody forthwith, unless wanted in any other case”.

While the apex court acquitted Hazarika giving ‘benefit of doubt’ as prosecution could establish that the appellant was the assailant of the deceased, it once again highlighted a very important question of judging a situation, motive or an act of person through the lens of ‘emotions’ which is so idiosyncratic that no general rules or parameters can be set for its standardization.

This case conclusively draws on the absurd that was inherent in the Albert Camus’s novel The Stranger published in 1942. In the book, the title character Meursault is accused of murdering an Arab in broad daylight. However, the prosecutor insists more on the fact that Meursault is a “soulless monster, incapable of remorse” to prove his crime than any material evidence. And the reason for concluding that Meursault is a “soulless monster, incapable of remorse” is simple: Meursault has “inability or unwillingness to cry at his mother's funeral.”

The lack of emotion in Meursault becomes evident from these opening line of the book that is, “Mother died today. Or maybe it was yesterday, I don’t know.” Through this plain acceptance of truth by Meursault, one can assume that there is lack of ‘genuine human emotions’ in Meursault, but the question remains: whether it is enough to prove someone’s culpability.

The current judgment answers in the negative. Hopefully the investigating and prosecuting agencies take note of this.

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