The Acquittal of Dr. Shashi Tharoor

At 21:00 hrs, on January 17, 2014, the Personal Secretary (Mr. Abhinav Kumar, IPS)to the then Minister of State of the Ministry of Human Resource Development, Dr. Shashi Tharoor made a phone call to the then SHO of PS Sarojini Nagar, Insp. Atul Sood alleging that the wife of Dr. Tharoor had done something to herself in room 345 of the Hotel Leela Palace, New Delhi. Senior Inspector Anil Kumar took his team to the aforementioned address to see the deceased lying on the bed in the bedroom of room 345. Upon the arrival of Insp. Atul Sood at the scene of the incident, it was revealed that the death of the deceased occurred within seven years of her marriage to Dr. Tharoor (the marriage was solemnized on October 2, 2010). The territorial jurisdiction fell under Ld. SDM of Vasant Vihar Sub-Division, Shri Alok Sharma, wherein the SDM upheld the initiation of the investigation by the law enforcement agencies in consonance with an inquiry into the cause of death of the deceased under Section 176, Sub-Section 1 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973.

On January 04, 2014, the deceased travelled to Dubai to meet her son; subsequently, the accused (Dr. Tharoor) flew to Dubai on January 09, 2014. The duo left for Trivandrum on January 11, 2014, in order to get the deceased to the Kerala Institute of Medical Sciences for her medical examination. The deceased was admitted to the hospital for check-ups with a history of intermittent fevers, fainting episodes, migraine, photo-sensitivity, arthritis pain, irregular bowel movements, wherein she was discharged on January 14, 2021, with a possible diagnosis of Sjogren’s Syndrome. The line of events from January 14 are as follows:

Sr. No Date/ Time Event Details
1. 14/01/2014

09:45 A.M.

The deceased was discharged from the hospital with a cannula on her right hand. She was hemodynamically stable. She was prescribed certain medications by the doctors at the hospital for her underlying Lupus condition.
2. 15/01/2014

04:00 P.M.

The accused, the deceased and Narayan Singh returned to New Delhi via an Air India flight. During the journey, the deceased saw some text messages being exchanged between the accused and MT, a Pakistani journalist, wherein the deceased accused the latter of infidelity. After the flight landed, the deceased was taken in a wheelchair owing to her complaint of feeling physically weak, wherein she rushed to a washroom where she stayed for 20 minutes. After waiting for a while, the accused left the airport whilst Narayan Singh and the deceased were left at the airport. The deceased called her son in Dubai while she was inside the washroom. She told her son that she was feeling depressed due to the continuing affair between the accused and MT. She came out of the washroom; subsequently, she called Sunil Trakaru, her friend from Gurgaon.
3. 15/01/2014

05:35 P.M.

Sunil Trakaru picked the deceased and Narayan Singh and dropped them at Hotel Leela Palace after booking a room for them (Room No. 307) at 06:08 P.M.

The accused reveals that his phone was broken during a quarrel with his wife in the night about the supposed affair, wherein the phone was banged on the wall in a fit of rage. The deceased refused to eat anything while smoking a lot of cigarettes.

The accused entered the room at 08:37 P.M. and left the hotel at 01:16 A.M.

4. 16/01/2014

01:04 P.M. to 08:29 P.M.

The accused remained in the hotel in room 245.
5. 17/01/2014

06:56 A.M. to 07:45 P.M.

The accused came to the hotel at 01:06 A.M.

The accused had left the hotel.

The deceased calls the accused to bring a white coloured suit from their residence at the Lodi Estate since she desired to call a “press conference.”

The deceased calls her son at 07:00 A.M., 07:36 A.M. and 07:37 A.M., wherein the latter claims that she sounded okay while claiming that she felt severe bodily pain. The deceased refused to consume any food, rather she was seen smoking more than usual. The deceased did not leave the room, did not respond to any messages received on her phone.

 

The room of the deceased was heavily photographed, wherein several pieces of broken glass and several bottles of medicine were seen; additionally, the postmortem conducted by an Autopsy Board, consisting of Dr. Sudhir Kumar Gupta, Dr. Adarsh Kumar and Dr. Shashank Pooniya from the Department of Forensic Medicine and Toxicology, AIIMS, New Delhi (constituted at the behest of the SDM), revealed 15 ante-mortem injuries to the body of the deceased (with the time of infliction ranging between 12 hours to 4 days) with the time of death being fixed at a window of 18 hours. The autopsy and the circumstantial evidence revealed the cause of death as alleged Alprazolam poisoning. All ante-mortem injuries are blunt force, simple in nature and non-contributory to the death of the deceased. The following observations were made regarding the case:

  1. The witnesses did not raise any objection regarding the relationship between the deceased and the accused.
  2. No allegations against the accused by the familial relatives of the deceased in reference to any dowry demands, harassment.
  3. No foreign matter (saliva, blood, semen, etcetera) could be detected either on the body of the deceased or the exhibits in the room.
  4. Positive presence of ethyl alcohol (1.8mg/100ml) and caffeine in the stomach and small intestine, acetaminophen and caffeine in the liver and kidneys, caffeine in the blood, traces of acetaminophen, lidocaine and methylparaben on the clothes of the deceased.
  5. The deceased did not suffer from any life-threatening disease; she was deemed to be healthy and normal at the time of death.
  6. The images, photographs, documents and video files retrieved from the accused phone (a Blackberry), data from the Apple Macbook was analysed by the Directorate of Forensic Sciences, Gandhi Nagar, Gujarat had no incriminating relevance to the case. House searches conducted by the law enforcement agencies did not reveal any incriminating information, wherein the mobile phones and laptops analysed by the CFSL and the CBI failed to come back with anything incriminating against the accused.
  7. Samples of clothing and the bedsheets from the room were sent to the Federal Bureau of Investigation Lab, the United States of America for further analysis, wherein the analysis revealed traces of nicotine, cotinine, alprazolam, lidocaine and hydroxychloroquine with alprazolam found in the viscera of the body. The definite cause of death was unknown since the alprazolam in the body could not be quantified for it to be attributed to the causative of drug poisoning owing to the degrading nature of biological specimens.
  8. The electronic pieces of evidence from the deceased (emails, text messages, etcetera) reveal that she was Districtly distraught about the accused’s continuing relationship with MT.
  9. Homicide as a cause of death was ruled out. The deceased was thought to be in a state of mental agony due to her strained marital life (after the association of the accused with MT) with extreme emotional disturbance, mood swings, irregular sleeping patterns, self-starvation indicating her depressed state of mind.
  10. The cause of death was ruled to be an overdose of alprazolam (27 tablets were missing from the strip of the medication found near to the body of the deceased) in the state of self-induced starvation as an outcome of self-injurious behaviour and continuous smoking; consequently, the cause of death was narrowed to suicide.

Special Judge Geetanjali Ghosh of the Delhi District Court on August 19, 2021, discharged Dr. Tharoor of all charges against him in connection to the death of his wife under Section 306 of the Indian Penal Code, 1872 (Abetment to Suicide) since the court could not find any prima facie pieces of material evidence that show the role of Dr. Tharoor in the death of his wife.

The judge pointed out that the actions of Dr. Tharoor did not cause either annoyance or irritation to the deceased, he neither strongly persuaded nor advised the deceased to do some actions with the intention to provoke, incite, urge or encourage the deceased to commit suicide; additionally, the judge pointed out that the experts’ reports from medical and non-medical institutions, charge-sheets of the investigative agencies, analysis of the law enforcement agencies do not definitely and conclusively narrow the cause of death as suicide. In the end, Dr. Tharoor was acquitted of all charges with no scope of any criminal trial to be held against him per the Delhi District Court.

The court held that marital disputes could not be held as substantial grounds to frame the charges of abetment to suicide of the deceased, wherein the mental agony, agitation, distress caused to the deceased on account of the alleged affair between the accused and MT (the same cannot be conclusively proven by the investigative agencies) cannot be construed as sufficient grounds to charge Dr. Tharoor for abetment to suicide of the deceased.

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