Legal Aspects of FIR filed in the Death of Sushant Singh Rajput

The death of the popular Bollywood star Sushant Singh Rajput has left not only Bollywood but the whole Nation in an utter state of shock. People across the nation, including his family members, fans, politicians, celebrities, sportspersons as well as members of the film fraternity, are struggling to cope with the untimely death of the rising actor.

The 34-year-old actor was found dead at his flat in Bandra, Mumbai on June 14 in an apparent suicide. His primary postmortem report states that the actor committed suicide and died of asphyxiation due to hanging.

However, the reason for the suicide is still unclear as no suicide note has been discovered from the spot. But, as of now, according to the initial investigation, the reports clarify that the actor was suffering from clinical depression from the past six months. Based on that, it is said that the reason behind this extreme step could be depression.

His sister as well as Bollywood insider also verifies the fact that Sushant Singh Rajput was struggling with both his personal and professional life. But, several media reports as well as many of his fans find this difficult to digest and state that there are various possibilities that Sushant ‘the self-made star’ has been murdered. Even, Sushant’s maternal uncle claimed that the actor did not commit suicide, but was murdered.

“I’ve stopped taking my thoughts seriously because now I understand how fickle my thoughts are.”

Sushant Singh Rajput

Introduction

Recently, to our dismay, Bollywood lost a promising star and a powerhouse of raw talent in the form of Sushant Singh Rajput, who committed suicide by hanging himself at his residence in Mumbai’s Bandra on 14th June 2020. After the demise of the “Chhichhore” actor, reports are rife in the media that Sushant’s death was not simpliciter a “suicide” but was a case of “abetment to commit suicide” involving Bollywood biggies such as Karan Johar, Sanjay Leela Bhansali, Salman Khan, and Ekta Kapoor, as abettors.

Lately, Advocate Sudhir Kumar Ojha got registered an F.I.R. against the alleged abettors in Bihar (Muzaffarpur). The F.I.R. has been registered under the following Sections of the IPC:

  • Section 306 (Abetment of suicide);
  • Section 109 (Punishment of abetment if the act abetted is committed in consequence, and where no express provision is made for its punishment);
  • Section 504 (Intentional insult with intent to provoke breach of the peace); and,
  • Section 506 (Punishment for criminal intimidation).

The F.I.R. states that the alleged abettors tried to sabotage the career of the deceased by making sure that the deceased did not get enough films to do and if at all he got films to act in then he was discreetly removed from those films.

Whether or not Sushant’s suicide is a case of “abetment” will come out in blaze once the investigation is over and the charge-sheet is filed. In the meantime, it is expected that the alleged abettors, the kingpin of Bollywood, will move to the High Court seeking quashing of the F.I.R. on the grounds that they are not responsible, directly or indirectly, for Sushant’s death.

The FIR and Section 306 of IPC:

The entire gist of the FIR revolves around one Section of the IPC, namely, Section 306. Where the accused by his acts or by a continued course of conduct creates such circumstances that the deceased was left with no other option except to kill, an “instigation” may be inferred. The offence of abetment to suicide under Section 306 of IPC is endowed with twin essential ingredients:

  • A person commits suicide; and,
  • Such suicide was abetted by the accused.

The offence of abetment to suicide involves a mental process of instigating a person or intentionally aiding a person to commit suicide. To hold a person liable for abetting suicide, active role of that person (abettor) is required to be established.

Section 306 of IPC:

Suicide has not been declared as a crime by the IPC obviously because once a person successfully commits suicide, that person is no longer alive to be prosecuted and the crime abates with him. However, an attempt to commit suicide is punishable under Section 309 of the IPC.

The constitutionality of Section 306 of the IPC was challenged in the matter of Smt. Gian Kaur v. State of Punjab.[1] Upholding the constitutionality of Section 306 of the IPC, the Hon’ble Supreme Court held that Section 306 of the IPC enacted a distinct offence that is capable of existence independent of Section 309 of the IPC.

To make a case of “abetment”, there must be instigation by the accused, that is, provoking, inciting and/or encouraging a person to do an act. The offence of “abetment” must conform to the definition of the term given in Section 107 of the IPC, that is to say, that, there must be instigation, co-operation, and/or intentional assistance given to a person to do an act.

More often than not, proving the offence of “abetment to commit suicide” is a difficult task much because according to law, it should be proved beyond reasonable doubt that the abettor intended that the victim should end his life by committing suicide. That, ordinarily, to prove the intention coupled with positive acts on the part of the accused/ abettors vis-à-vis the causation of suicide by the victim is an uphill task.

The High Court of Madras in Manikandan v.  State,[2] observed that:

“… It is not the wish and willingness nor the desire of the victim to die, it must be the wish of the accused, it is the intention on the part of the accused that the victim should die that matters much. There must be a positive act on the part of the accused. It need not be by words. It may be by deeds. It may be by letters. But, at the same time, the decision of a weak-minded or a woman of frail mentality cannot be misunderstood as abetment. For one’s foolish act another person can’t be made liable.”

As of now, no suicide note has been found in Sushant’s room where he committed suicide. Even if there was a suicide note which named the alleged abettors, it would still be the requirement of law for the prosecution to prove that offence under Section 306 of the IPC was committed by the alleged abettors. Regard may also be had to the recent judgment of the High Court of Karnataka on this point:

“… Mere allegations in the death note that the petitioner and others are responsible for his death, would not be sufficient to come to the conclusion that the petitioner has committed the said offence, unless the overt acts and conduct of the accused are stated, in order to prove the case of the prosecution and that is sufficient to drive the person to commit suicide.” Acts which are intended to “merely harass” the victim, ordinarily fall outside the purview of Section 306 of the IPC:

In the matter of Ude Singh & Ors v. State of Haryana,[3] after discussing the ingredients of the offence under Section 306 of the IPC at length, the court laid down the following test: in order to determine, whether or not, offence under Section 306 of the IPC has been made out against the accused/ alleged abettor:

1. In cases of alleged abetment of suicide, there must be proof of direct or indirect act(s) of incitement to the commission of suicide.

2. The question of the cause of suicide, particularly in the context of an offence of abetment of suicide, is a vexed one, involving multifaceted and complex attributes of human behaviour and responses/ reactions.

3. In the case of accusation for abetment of suicide, the court ordinarily looks for cogent and convincing proof of the acts of incitement to the commission of suicide.

4. In the case of suicide, a mere allegation of harassment of the deceased by another person would not suffice unless there be such action on the part of the accused which compels the person to commit suicide; and such an offending action needs to be proximate to the time of occurrence.

5. Whether a person has abetted in the commission of suicide by another or not, could only be gathered from the facts and circumstances of each case.

6. For the purpose of finding out if a person has abetted the commission of suicide by another, the consideration would be if the accused is guilty of the act of instigation of the act of suicide.

7. That instigation means to goad, urge forward, provoke, incite, or encourage to do an act.

8. If the person who committed suicide was hypersensitive and the action of the accused is otherwise not ordinarily expected to induce a similarly circumstanced person to commit suicide, it may not be safe to prove the accused guilty of abetment of suicide.

9. But, on the other hand, if the accused by his acts and by his continuous course of conduct creates a situation which leads the deceased perceiving no other option except to commit suicide, the case may fall within the four corners of Section 306 of the IPC.

10. If the accused played an active role in tarnishing the self-esteem and self-respect of the victim, which eventually draws the victim to commit suicide, the accused may be held guilty of abetment of suicide.

11. The question of mens rea on the part of the accused in such cases have to be examined with reference to the actual acts and deeds of the accused and if the acts and deeds are only of such nature where the accused intended nothing more than harassment or snap-show of anger, a specific case may come short of the offence of abetment of suicide. However, if the accused kept on irritating or annoying the deceased by words or deeds until the deceased reacted or was provoked, a specific case is also that of abetment of suicide. Such being the matter of delicate analysis of human behaviour, each case is required to be examined on its own facts, while listening of all the encircling factors having pertaining to the actions and psyche of the accused and also the deceased.

12. That human mind could be affected and could react in myriad ways and the impact of one’s action on the mind of another carries several imponderables. Similar actions are addressed differently by different persons; so far a specific person’s reaction to the other human’s action is  concerned, there is no specific theorem or yardstick to estimate or assess the same.

13. Even with regard to the factors related to the question of harassment of a girl, many factors are to be considered like age, personality, upbringing, rural or urban setups, education, etc. Even the response to the ill-action of eve-teasing and its impact on a young girl could also vary for a variety of factors, including those of background, self- confidence, and upbringing. Hence, each case is required to be addressed on its own facts and circumstances.

A “mental state” or “abetment” writ large?

If news reports are to be believed, Sushant was suffering from clinical depression and was being treated for the same. The test for ascertaining whether the offence of “abetment to commit suicide” has been occasioned, can be summarized as follows: “it is not what the deceased ‘felt’, but what the accused ‘intended’ by his act”.

Thus, the alleged abettors can be convicted for the offences mentioned in the FIR, the principal offence being Section 306 of the IPC if it is proved beyond reasonable doubt that the alleged abettors wanted not only to oust Sushant from Bollywood but wanted him to end his life. The evidence that comes to the surface, once the investigation is complete, will determine whether a case is made out against the alleged abettors or not.

In the matter of Gurcharan Singh v. State of Punjab,[4] it was held that the basic ingredients of Section 306 of the IPC are “suicide death” and “abetment” thereof. In Sushant’s case, the death of the actor is a suicide death and not a murder, but the element of “abetment” is yet to be tried and proved on the anvil of cogent evidence.

The report in the matter of Gurcharan Singh (supra) drew strength from the judgment of the Hon’ble Supreme Court in the matter of State of West Bengal v. Orilal Jaiswal & Anr,[5] whereby it was observed that when offences are in the nature of “abetment to commit suicide” then the court should be extremely careful in assessing the facts and circumstances of each case and the evidence adduced in the trial of the parties before the court delivers judgment on acquittal/ conviction of the accused/ alleged abettors.

Threshold to prove guilt

To establish a case under Section 306 of the IPC, the prosecution will have to prove beyond reasonable doubt that:

1.         Not murder, but suicide: Victim (Sushant) committed suicide and was not murdered.

2.         Influence of drugs/ psychotropic substances: At the time of the incident, the victim (Sushant) was not under the influence of any drug or psychotropic substance.

3.         Hypersensitivity: Victim (Sushant) was not a person of a frail or weak mind. The victim was not “hypersensitive”.

4.         Not “mere harassment”: The alleged abettors harassed the victim (Sushant) to the extent that he was driven to commit suicide.

5.         Harassment was cruel and proximate to the time of occurrence: The harassment meted out to the victim was not only continuous and cruel but was also proximate to the time of occurrence of the incident, that is, 14th June 2020.

6.         Abettors actively tarnished the self-esteem of the victim: The alleged abettors played an active role in tarnishing the self-esteem and self-respect of the victim (Sushant), which eventually drew him to commit suicide.

7.         The mental process of instigating the victim to commit suicide: Abettors intended (mens rea) and thus, created such circumstances that the victim (Sushant) was left with no option but to end his life by committing suicide. The harassment that the alleged abettors meted out to the victim was severe and grave enough to push the victim to take away his own life. The presence of mens rea is the necessary concomitant of instigation.

8.         Not suicide simpliciter but “abetment to commit suicide”: Victim (Sushant) took his life because he was instigated and/ or provoked to do so by the alleged abettors.

The be-all and end-all

Sushant Singh Rajput was a brilliant actor, and in the partisan (and parochial) film industry for decades to come he will be remembered as an “Outsider Superstar”. If Sushant was Caesar of his time, the film industry visited him like Brutus. Sushant will continue to live in our hearts as someone who preferred to live beyond the realms of nepotism and cronyism.

Sushant’s death is a wake-up call for all of us, as members of a civil society, to realize that “mental health” is as significant as “physical heath” and “emotional well-being” is as vital as “material well-being”. We need to build a value system where the estimation of success is not measured solitarily in terms of IQ (Intelligence Quotient) but in terms of the blend of both IQ and EQ (Emotional Quotient). No doubt, mental health jurisprudence in India is not much developed as the Mental Health Care Act 2017 (MHCA) neither defines nor provides for “depression”, “clinical depression” or “stress”, and it only concentrates on the distinction between “mental illness” and “mental retardation”. However, of all the odds the only positive legislative move seems to be the decriminalization of attempt to commit suicide (Section 309 of the IPC) by virtue of Sub-section (1) of Section 115 of the MHCA. 

Lastly, so far as the fate of Sushant’s case (abetment to commit suicide) is concerned, it is too early to comment on anything much because the matter is still pending investigation and the alleged abettors are still to face police interrogation. However, prima facie, if we apply the principles of law that govern conviction in offences of abetment to commit suicide, namely,

  • Even if any acts or words uttered by the alleged abettors or their conduct are sufficient to demean or humiliate the deceased and even to drive the deceased to suicide, such acts will not amount to instigation or abetment of the commission of suicide, unless it is established that the alleged abettors intended by their acts that the deceased must commit suicide; and,
  • It is not enough if the acts of the alleged abettors cause persuasion in the mind of the deceased to commit suicide.

It seems that alleged abettors might as well be acquitted, because the alleged abettors might have wanted to oust Sushant from Bollywood and/or end his career, but might not have “intended” to drive him to the point of no return. Investigation and trial in the matter will soon, in times to come, remove the “might and might not” and the truth will come out in a blaze. Rest, for all that matters, in the end, is, “justice be done though heavens fall”.

Points necessary to prove that the star was murdered.

  • A Criminal advocate points out a doctrine common in criminal law and i.e., ‘A person cannot kill himself by jumping in the water who knows how to swim as the last minute agony will compel him to pull out and similarly a person who can handle his body weight with his hands, will surely pull himself out and cannot hang himself.’
  • Doctors stated that the cause of death is asphyxiation but to clarify that the asphyxiation was caused before or after the hanging; needs further investigation.
  • Media reports said that he was banned by several big productions and did not get films but recently the Film-maker ‘Anand Gandhi’, as well as ‘Rumy Jafry’, said that, they were about to start shooting with him.
  • Sources also revealed that he organized a closed friend’s group party at his house night before and the sound of whistling as well as hooting was heard from inside which is usually not a sign of depression.

Adding to this, we’ve also shed some light on the 5 most shocking revelations related to Sushant Singh Rajput Suicide, and they are as follows:

  • All the CCTV of the building/complex shut down right from the night before his death.
  • The duplicate key of the door is missing.
  • In this type of suicide, the hands are clenched and the eyes remain wide but none of the signs matches the actor condition.
  • He once said to his girlfriend, ‘I can be killed if I have a relationship with you.’ Also, his girlfriend removed all their personal photos from her account just a few days before.
  • Mahesh Bhat stated saying once in an interview that, “Sushant will have to commit suicide one day.’

So, if these revelations related to Sushant Singh’s suicide were to be believed, then, one cannot conclude whether it was a case of suicide or a murder. However, his father, as well as his maternal uncle, claimed that Sushant was not an ‘I Quit’ type of person and clearly, there seems to be a conspiracy behind Sushant Singh’s death.

Conclusion

The reason for the suicide remains unclear as no suicide note has been discovered from the spot. But, as of now, according to the initial investigation, the reports clarify that the actor was suffering from clinical depression for the past six months. Based on that, it is said that the reason behind this extreme step could be depression.

Advocate Sudhir Kumar Ojha registered an FIR against the alleged abettors of the suicide in Bihar (Muzaffarpur). A Bihar court on Wednesday dismissed a petition seeking registration of cases against Bollywood bigwigs like Salman Khan, Ekta Kapoor, Sanjay Leela Bhansali and Karan Johar for allegedly abetting actor Sushant Singh Rajput’s suicide, citing jurisdictional limitations. The Chief Judicial Magistrate of Muzaffarpur Mukesh Kumar dismissed the petition filed by local advocate Sudhir Kumar Ojha, pointing out that the matter lay outside the court’s jurisdiction.

The real truth behind this incredible actor’s mysterious suicide remains a question that puzzles his fans, the media and the police even after a month since his demise.

References


  • [1] (1996) 2 SCC 648. 
  • [2] Criminal Appeal(MD)No.142 of 2016.
  • [3] Criminal Appeal No. 233/ 2010, Supreme Court of India (Date of Decision: 25.07.2019)
  • [4] Civil Writ Petition No. 3143 of 1969.
  • [5] (1994) 1 SCC 73.

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