Tandoor verdict a travesty of justice
It’s baffling how the Supreme Court considers the Naina Sahni murder case, in which the political activist and Youth Congress leader was brutally killed, chopped up and burnt in a tandoor by her husband Sushil Sharma, ‘not an offence against the society’ but ‘the outcome of their strained personal relationship.’
It is this intriguing premise that led the apex court commute the death sentence for Sharma to a life term, declaring that since the convict had no criminal antecedents and that the murder was the result of his suspecting her ‘fidelity’ and extreme possessiveness, and therefore the crime did not merit the ‘rarest of rare tag.’ This coming from an SC bench is not only disheartening but also perplexing, since the notorious tandoor murder had become synonymous with extreme brutality and depravity prevalent in our society before the 16 December gang rape resulting in murder shook the national conscience and tore apart India’s shining new image as an emerging power to reckon with.
But since our eminent judges think otherwise and consider Sushil Sharma’s unimaginably perverse and barbaric act as not a threat to the society, we need to reassess what the court means when it proclaims that the crime wasn’t a rarest of rare ones. Obviously, commuting death sentence to life term is not the issue here, since the debate on the efficacy of capital punishment is a separate discussion altogether that merits entirely different arguments.
The crux of the problem lies in the court’s branding the murder as ensuing out of strained personal relations and not out of entrenched prejudices towards wives and female partners in particular and women in general, which equate the female body as the property of first the father, then the husband and finally the son, so much so that such gruesome violence becomes an accepted expression of male wrath against the errant female.
It is strange that the court noted mitigating factors like no family members of Sahni deposing against Sharma, his ‘remorse’ after the crime of passion and his outburst upon seeing the remains of Sahni’s body at a mortuary as reasons enough to soften their stance against Sharma, overriding the verdicts given by both the trial court and upheld by Delhi high court. Obviously, there is a limit beyond which reform and rehabilitation become meaningless, since the extremely gruesomeness of the crime would under no circumstances be undone.
While the Supreme Court’s emphasis on the possibility of reform for every one shines through the dark tunnel of judicial and penal inefficiency bogging down our system, how can the court forget that expressions of personal jealousy and the drive to punish the adulterous woman are all outward manifestations of deep-seated patriarchal prejudices that get translated into routinised extreme violence against women. Hence, while commuting the death sentence is a commendable decision, the arguments proffered for that need serious rethinking.