Former Union minister Shashi Tharoor was summoned by a Delhi court on Tuesday as an accused in connection with the death of his wife Sunanda Pushkar. As per the charge sheet filed by the Delhi Police, the Senior Congress leader has been charged with committing offences under sections 306 (abetment of suicide) and 498A (cruelty) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). If convicted under the former section, Tharoor is looking at up to ten years in prison.
According to the charge sheet, the Delhi Police is claiming that Sunanda was harassed and subjected to cruelty by Tharoor to the point of being driven to suicide. Section 498A makes it an offence for a husband or a husband's relative to subject a woman to cruelty, punishable by three years' imprisonment.
Under Section 498A, cruelty is defined as:
(a) Any willful conduct which is of such a nature as is likely to drive the woman to commit suicide or to cause grave injury or danger to life, limb or health (whether mental or physical) of the woman; or
(b) Harassment of the woman where such harassment is with a view to coercing her or any person related to her to meet any unlawful demand for any property or valuable security or is on account of failure by her or any person related to her to meet such demand.
From explanation (a) it can be gathered that the charge of abetment of suicide and cruelty go hand in hand in case the woman has committed suicide.
Under Section 113-A of the Evidence Act of 1872, there is a presumption as to abetment of suicide if the charge of cruelty is proved and the suicide was committed within a period of seven years of the woman's marriage to the husband. The general rule of criminal law is the presumption of innocence. However, in India is this not a constitutionally safeguarded right, even though it is generally followed. In certain circumstances the court may draw a presumption against an accused with respect to certain offences.
Pushkar's suicide happened within seven years of her marriage to Tharoor. If the police establish that she was subjected to cruelty, it will be up to Tharoor to prove that the cruelty did not cause the suicide. Further, abetment under the IPC has a wide ambit. Instigating a person is abetment under the IPC. So, if the prosecution can establish that Tharoor encouraged Pushkar to commit suicide, they may have him on the abetment of suicide charge.
The Congress has called the trial politically motivated. Which it may be. That is not the concern of this article. But if Tharoor gets convicted ahead of next year's general election, he may not be eligible for Parliament even if he appeals. Given his renewed relevance as a politician among India's educated middle classes, this may be something to bear in mind.
Of course, Tharoor can always apply to the Delhi High Court to have the prosecution quashed if it appears that there is no evidence. The high court has a general power to quash any criminal proceeding if it appears that the proceeding is malafide or against the general interests of justice.
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Updated Date: Jun 05, 2018 23:00:13 IST