Explained: Sushil Kumar Murder Controversy

Facts of the Case

Recently, thirty-eight-year-old Olympic wrestler Sushil Kumar was arrested on murder charges by the Delhi police. He had allegedly beaten a fellow wrestler to death in a public brawl outside the Chhatrasal stadium[1]. He apparently even escaped the city after the brawl in an attempt to avoid the police authorities. The police were forced to issue a “Look-out-circular”[2] (LOC) for him due to him being on the run. Eventually, he was arrested in Delhi itself and taken into custody. The police had been informed by several witnesses that Kumar was present on the scene when the brawl occurred. Apparently, there were several other men who were involved in the fight. While Sagar Dhankad, the wrestler who Kumar attacked, was murdered; there were several other victims on the scene who managed to survive. While inspecting the crime scene the additional deputy commissioner concluded the following: –                                                                              

“The crime scene as well as all the five vehicles were inspected. During the inspection, one double barrel loaded gun with five live cartridges were found in one Scorpio and two wooden sticks were also recovered from the spot. All the five vehicles and weapons of offense were seized.”[3]                                                                                                                                                          

As a result, the authorities had no choice but to look for the accused who seemed to be absconding.

Facts Uncovered by the Authorities

On further investigation, several other issues were uncovered by the police. For starters, this murder case had several other issues attached to it. While according to witnesses and victims, the police had first uncovered that Sagar Dhankad had been murdered due to him verbally abusing Kumar. Hence, Kumar had assaulted Dhankad after kidnapping him from a hotel in Delhi itself. Allegedly, Sagar and his girlfriend Sonu were at the Centre of this entire debacle. They were both residing in Kumar’s flat in model town, and he had admonished them several times, asking them to move out from the apartment.[4] Later on, one of Kumar’s aides, Ajay, allegedly entered the model town apartment and hurled abuses at the couple for continuing to reside there despite being asked to leave. It seemed that Sagar was throwing a birthday party for his girlfriend Sonu at that very flat and Ajay apparently even misbehaved with Sagar’s girlfriend, Sonu.[5]  When Sagar confronted Ajay, Ajay reacted by inciting Sushil which culminated into the brawl outside Chhatrasal stadium.[6] Although Sushil was also critically injured, he managed to escape. As a result, the matter was not only a property dispute but also a personal rift between these individuals.                                                               

Sushil Kumar: A brief Biography                                                                                               

Sushil Kumar, a professional wrestler, has several accolades to his name. He represented India in the Olympics in 2008 and 2012, where he won a bronze and silver medal, respectively. He also won medals at other prestigious events such as the commonwealth games and the Asian Wrestling championship. He has even been recognized by the Indian government for his achievements and has been bestowed with titles such as the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna award and the Padma Shree.[7] He had a promising career ahead of him and several had hope he would win a gold medal at the Olympics. However, in 2016 itself Kumar could not participate in the Rio Olympics. This was due to issues surrounding the quota system in the various weight categories at the olymics. Kumar in fact went to trial in an attempt to be allowed to represent India at the event. However, due to several issues the court ruled against him, and he eventually lost out on this opportunity.[8]        

Legal Provisions Involved

Liability For Murder

At the outset, section 302 of the Indian Penal code (IPC) had to be registered. Section 302 of the IPC states that, “Whoever commits murder shall be punished with death, or imprisonment for life, and shall also be liable to fine.”[9] This section was initially established in the 1800s, during the British rule. In independent India, this section was modified and incorporated into the Indian penal code. A case registered under this section is a cognizable, non-bailable crime which also provides strict punishments for the accused if found guilty. However, there have been several critics of section 302. These criticisms are often aimed at the punishment provided under this section i.e., the death penalty. According to the amnesty international, the death penalty was served to around 100 people in 2007, 40 in 2006, 77 in 2005, 23 in 2002, and 33 in 2001, but not all sentenced were eventually executed)[10]. The court in the case of Bachan Singh v. State of Punjab[11] decided that the death penalty would only be served in the “rarest of rarest cases”.[12] In fact, in this case the court declared that “judges are never blood-thirsty” and hence will always have “special reasons” for imposing such a harsh judgement.[13] However, it can be argued if the death penalty under section 302 is the apt punishment for Sushil Kumar. Courts have historically imposed the death penalty in rare cases, such as the Nirbhaya rape case that occurred in 2012[14]. However, it was only in 2020 that the courts did eventually impose a death penalty on the four accused in the matter. The courts have been hesitant to impose a punishment of such harsh nature and hence it is debatable whether Sushil Kumar can be given this punishment.       

Liability For Abduction/Kidnapping                                                                                                  

Sushil Kumar was also booked under section 365 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). Section 365 of the IPC states that, “Whoever kidnaps or abducts any person with intent to cause that person to be secretly and wrongfully confined, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to seven years, and shall also be liable to fine.” [15] Since Sushil along with his aides had kidnapped Sagar from Model Town before allegedly beating him to death, he could be held liable under this section. Hence, the police could charge him with this as well. In fact, in the case of Somasundaram & Somu vs The State Representative, the court held that if the abduction had taken place to not only wrongfully confine the individual but also murder them, section 364 of the India Penal Code would be applicable as well.[16] While allegedly kidnapping Sagar, Sushil had put his life at risk and in a position of being murdered. If the words of the witnesses and victims were true, then Kumar could be liable under both section 364 and 365 of the Indian Penal code (IPC).   

Liability For Criminal Conspiracy                                                                                               

Section 120B could also be applicable to Kumar due to his obvious engagement in criminal conspiracy. Section 120B of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) states that:                                                                                             

1. Whoever is a party to a criminal conspiracy to commit an offence punishable with death, imprisonment for life or rigorous imprisonment for a term of two years or upwards, shall, where no express provision is made in this Code for the punishment of such a conspiracy, be punished in the same manner as if he had abetted such offence.                                                             

2. Whoever is a party to a criminal conspiracy other than a criminal conspiracy to commit an offence punishable as aforesaid shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term not exceeding six months, or with fine or with both.”[17]                                                                                                                                

Kumar had obviously engaged in this by planning the confrontation. In fact, it is known that Ajay and Sushil had called the “Aasuda Gang”, a group of men regarded as the local gangsters.[18] Section 120 A specifies the elements required for an act to be considered criminal conspiracy which basically refers to an illegal act or a legal act carried out by legal means.[19] In the case of Pratapbhai Hamirbhai Solanki v. State of Gujarat and another[20], the supreme court clarified its stance on criminal conspiracy:-                                                                                                                          

“The most important ingredient of the offence being the agreement between two or more persons to do an illegal act. In a case where criminal conspiracy is alleged, the court must inquire whether the two persons are independently pursuing the same end, or they have come together to pursue the unlawful object. The former does not render them conspirators, but the latter does. For the offence of conspiracy some kind of physical manifestation of agreement is required to be established. The express agreement need not be proved. The evidence as to the transmission of thoughts sharing the unlawful act is not sufficient.”[21]                                                                              

The involvement of Ajay, Sushil and the other gang members proves there was a clear criminal conspiracy involved. According to section 120B of the Indian Penal Code, criminal conspiracy is also a cognizable offence and there will be strict punishment for those booked under it. Hence, the police can hold apply this section to the case as well.                                

Liability Under the Arms Act                                                                                                              

Finally, the police had also recovered a double barrel gun from the crime scene with five live cartridges. This ties in the arms act into this case as well. Gun laws in India have always known to be very strict and obtaining a licensed gun is a task in itself. The arms act passed in 1959 and further supported by the rules in 1962 aimed to regulate the various issues surrounding guns. These included possessing a gun, its sale, manufacture along with import and export.[22]  The arms act had characterized arms into two categories prohibited and non-prohibited arms. This refers to the type of arms which can and cannot be possessed with a license. Moreover, in India it is integral for the party asking for a licensed gun to prove that their life is in danger. It is only when they prove that they need the gun for self-defense, can the possession of the gun be legally allowed[23]. However, it is not easy to prove this need and the license to possess a gun is provided very selectively by the authorities.                                                                                                                      

At the outset, Sushil Kumar did not have a license to possess a gun. Moreover, the gun retrieved from the crime scene was a double barreled one. The police would have to carry out investigations to determine if the gun belonged to anybody else present on the crime scene and if they in fact possessed the license required for such a gun. Aside from this it is also important for the police to discover if this gun was obtained by legal or illegal means. In case of either of these possibilities, the arms act also specifies the punishment for possessing an unlicensed gun.

The Applicable Sections Under The Arms Act                                                                                 

According to section 27 of the arms act :-                                                                                                              “(1)Whoever uses any arms or ammunition in contravention of section 5 shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which shall not be less than three years but which may extend to seven years and shall also be liable to fine.  (2) Whoever uses any prohibited arms or prohibited ammunition in contravention of section 7 shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which shall not be less than seven years, but which may extend to imprisonment for life and shall also be liable to fine.                                                                                                                                       (3) Whoever uses any prohibited arms or prohibited ammunition or does any act in contravention of section 7 and such use or act results in the death of any other person, shall be punishable with imprisonment for life, or death and shall also be liable to fine.”[24]

Section 29 of the arms act also speaks of obtaining such arms in an illegal manner :-                                         “Whoever― (a) purchases any firearms or any other arms of such class or description as may be prescribed or any ammunition from any other person knowing that such other person is not licensed or authorized under section 5;                                                                                                             or (b) delivers any arms or ammunition into the possession of another person without previously ascertaining that such other person is entitled by virtue of this Act or any other law for the time being in force to have, and is not prohibited by this Act or such other law from having, in his possession the same; shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years, or with fine, or with both.”[25]                                       

As a result, the concerned authorities would have to investigate all these matters to determine the exact charges to be pressed against Sushil Kumar and his fellow criminal conspirators. This must be done with extreme precision as the case is complicated in its preliminary stages itself.

Recent Developments in The Case                                                           

Ever since Sushil Kumar has been arrested, there have been several developments in the case. He has undergone several rounds of investigations and the police authorities are in fact convinced that he is guilty. The police have also recovered evidence from electronic devices that prove Kumar’s direct involvement in the matter.[26] As a result, the situation seems to be bleak for Kumar. The evidence recovered by the police apparently shows Sushil actively assaulting Sagar along with the other gang members and this is detrimental for Kumar’s case.[27] While in custody, Kumar also attempted to demand for special food that would enable him to maintain his diet. He claimed he required such foods to help him continue to train. The court however rejected his demand, simply stating that special treatment could not be provided to any prisoner, irrespective of their profession.[28] An eyewitness to the scene has even requested for police protection as many of the individuals involved have a criminal record in the state of Haryana[29]. Sushil Kumar’s toll booth business has also come under the scanner due to the recent killing of a politician and the toll booth workers involvement in it[30]. All these developments point towards an eventual conviction of Sushil Kumar.

The Most Recent Discussion Surrounding the Case

 Over the span of the past few days, the police have managed to arrest several of Sushil Kumar’s aides in this matter and have brought them in for questioning.  There is also surrounding discussion of if Kumar should be stripped of his various titles. He has a long list of accolades and due to this recent controversy, they have all been called into question. His international medals seem to be safe as the Olympic committee among others have not stripped anyone of their medals for such reasons before.[31] The Indian medals depend on the circumstances surrounding the case. The President can annul a Padma Shri award in case of a grave offence and hence if Sushil is convicted, this is a possibility. The courts have currently extended his custody till June 25th and investigations are to continue. The court will review the matter post June 25th to decide on the future course of action to be taken in this case.

Conclusion 

As a result, the Sushil Kumar murder case is one steeped in controversy and has had several conversations surrounding it. Several have questioned the wrestler’s downfall. It is indeed ironical how Kumar who began his journey from Chhatrasal stadium in his youth has now been arrested for the brawl that occurred outside it. His victories at various wrestling events have brought India tremendous glory. If the charges are proven to be true, then it is truly a loss to the sport of wrestling, among others. Moreover, he has always been regarded as one of the strongest Indian wrestlers and winning a gold medal at the Olympics was certainly something he wanted to accomplish. However, justice must be delivered to the victims’ families. Hence, the authorities must carry out an unbiased, fair investigation to determine his liability in the matter.                                     


[1] Tasneem Haider, Sagar Rana murder case: Delhi Court extends judicial custody of wrestler Sushil Kumar till June 25, india today (Jun. 11, 2021, 3:09 PM), https://www.indiatoday.in/sports/other-sports/story/sagar-rana-murder-case-sushil-kumar-judicial-custody-extended-1813628-2021-06-11.

[2] India Today Web Desk, Wrestler murder case: Delhi Police issues lookout notice against absconding wrestler Sushil Kumar, india today (May 10, 2021, 12:33 PM), https://www.indiatoday.in/sports/other-sports/story/sushil-kumar-lookout-notice-issued-delhi-police-absconding-murder-23-year-old-sagar-dhankad-1800703-2021-05-10.

[3] Id.

[4] Haider, supra note 1.

[5] Arvind Ojha, Wrestler Sushil Kumar arrested from Delhi in murder case, India today (May 23, 2021, 10:36 PM) https://www.indiatoday.in/india/story/olympian-sushil-kumar-arrested-delhi-murder-case-1805869-2021-05-23.

[6] Id.

[7]  Reuters and Manveena Suri, Indian Olympic medalist Sushil Kumar arrested over death of fellow wrestler, CNN (May 25, 2021) https://edition.cnn.com/2021/05/25/india/indian-wrestler-arrest-death-intl-hnk/index.html.

[8] Pulasta Dhar, Why Two-time Olympic winner Sushil Kumar Doesn’t deserve to go to Rio, scoopwhoop (May 10, 2016, 6:15 PM) https://www.scoopwhoop.com/Why-TwoTime-Olympic-Winner-Sushil-Kumar-Doesnt-Deserve-To-Go-To-Rio-2016/.

[9] Pinki Sarkar, Section 302 of Indian Penal Code, 1860 – Explained! shareyouressays (https://www.shareyouressays.com/knowledge/section-302-of-indian-penal-code-1860-explained/118777).

[10] Id.

[11] Bachan Singh v. State of Punjab, (1980) 2 S.C.C. 684. 

[12] Id.

[13] Vivek Mishra, Ordinary people Hardly know section 302, lawyered.in (Apr. 23, 2020) https://www.lawyered.in/legal-disrupt/articles/ordinary-people-hardly-know-ipc-section-302/.

[14] Mukesh & Anr v. State for NCT of Delhi & Ors., (2017) 6 S.C.C. 1.

[15] Pinki Sarkar, Section 365 of Indian Penal Code, 1860 – Explained! shareyouressays (https://www.shareyouressays.com/knowledge/section-302-of-indian-penal-code-1860-explained/118777).

[16] Somasundaram & Somu vs The State Representative (2020) S.C. 388.

[17] Tasneem Haider, Sagar Rana murder case: Delhi Court extends judicial custody of wrestler Sushil Kumar till June 25, india today (Jun. 11, 2021, 3:09 PM), https://www.indiatoday.in/sports/other-sports/story/sagar-rana-murder-case-sushil-kumar-judicial-custody-extended-1813628-2021-06-11.

[18] Id.

[19] Vijeta, The Law of Criminal Conspiracy Section 120A & 120B of Indian Penal Code, 4(1) i.j.r.r.a.148,148-151 (2017).

[20] Pratapbhai Hamirbhai Solanki v. State of Gujarat and another (2013) 1 S.C.C. 613.

[21] Vijeta, supra note 17.

[22] Arms (Amendment) Act, 2019, No. 54, Acts of Parliament, 1959(India).

[23] Id.

[24] Supra note 20.

[25] Id.

[26] PTI, Sushil Kumar’s Judicial Custody Extended till June 25th in murder case by Delhi court, the financial express (Jun. 11, 2021, 3:36 PM), https://www.financialexpress.com/india-news/sushil-kumars-judicial-custody-extended-till-june-25-in-murder-case-by-delhi-court/2269653/.

[27] Reuters and Manveena Suri, Indian Olympic medalist Sushil Kumar arrested over death of fellow wrestler, CNN (May 25, 2021) https://edition.cnn.com/2021/05/25/india/indian-wrestler-arrest-death-intl-hnk/index.html.

[28] Id.

[29] Arvind Ojha, Wrestler Sushil Kumar arrested from Delhi in murder case, India today (May 23, 2021, 10:36 PM) https://www.indiatoday.in/india/story/olympian-sushil-kumar-arrested-delhi-murder-case-1805869-2021-05-23.  

[30] Id.

[31] Marwan Naamani, Why Sushil Kumar is unlikely to be stripped of his Olympic medals, the times of india (Jun. 7, 2021, 11:55 PM), http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/articleshow/83301405.cms?utm_source=contentofinterest&utm_medium=text&utm_campaign=cppst.


Author: Arundhatti Ojha from Jindal Global Law school.


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