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In Shraddha's Killing, Delhi Reminded of Tandoor Murder: What Happened in 1995?

Thirty-year-old victim Naina Sahni, who was murdered by her husband, was a member of the Congress party.

Published
Explainers
4 min read
In Shraddha's Killing, Delhi Reminded of Tandoor Murder: What Happened in 1995?
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(Trigger Warning: Description of violence. Reader discretion advised.)

As more gruesome details of Shraddha Walkar’s murder in Delhi’s Chhatarpur come to the fore, one is reminded of another case of a relationship turning violently sour – the tandoor murder case of 1995. 

Twenty seven years ago, the gory details of the case had shook the nation and had "helped bring down India's national government and humbled the country's dominant political party," in the words of former Delhi Police Joint Commissioner Maxwell Pereira who had led the probe in the case.

So, what was the tandoor murder case? How had the killer disposed of the body? And how was he captured? We explain.

In Shraddha's Killing, Delhi Reminded of Tandoor Murder: What Happened in 1995?

  1. 1. What Was the Case?

    Naina Sahni was a member of the Congress party, holder of a pilot’s license, and owner of a boutique, all before turning 30. She was murdered by her husband Sushil Sharma, a youth Congress leader, who had shot her over suspicion of her having an extramarital affair.

    The crime took place at their home in Delhi on 2 July 1995. While the crime, like in the case of Walkar, was less gruesome in execution, it was equally brutal when it came to making the evidence disappear.

    At the time, Naina had been planning to move to Australia, for which she had taken the help of a former partner.

    Amid rising confrontations and feelings of jealousy, accompanied by a lack of success in politics, Sushil Sharma took the extreme step and shot his wife with a revolver.

    After shooting his wife, Sharma contemplated disposing of the body in river Yamuna. However, after finding traffic on the ITO bridge at around 9.30 pm, the accused formulated another way.

    Expand
  2. 2. How Did the Killer Dispose of the Body?

    After failing to dump the body in Yamuna river, Sharma decided to burn the body in a a tandoor or clay oven of Bagiya Bar-Be-Que restaurant in Hotel Ashok Yatri Niwas.

    Sushil reached the restaurant at 10.15 pm. His car was seen by a security guard, Mahesh Prasad, who recorded its entry in the register.

    The killer then calls Keshav Kumar, manager of the Bagiya, and tells him about the crime.

    Compelled by loyalty, Kumar follows Sharma's orders and gets the restaurant closed and send the staff home.

    The two then go on to form a pyre over the tandoor, with the victim's body, wood, and party propaganda material.

    Expand
  3. 3. How Was Sushil Sharma Captured?

    The evidence would have been destroyed had an elderly vegetable vendor not screamed after seeing the rising flames of the fire.

    Constable Ahmad Nazir Kunju, while doing the rounds, had tried investigating the fire but was told by Sharma that the latter was burning old election posters.

    After his attention was caught again, the constable jumped the hotel wall and saw two men fanning the large fire over a tandoor.

    When he got closer, the constable saw a human torso sticking out of the tandoor. He doused the flames and found a charred body.

    While Bagiya manager Keshav Kumar was arrested immediately, Sharma had gone missing before more police personnel arrived at the spot.

    Sharma initially claimed that he had left home on a "pilgrimage" on Sunday morning. What followed was a series of visits to various destinations. He claimed that it was in Chennai (then Madras) that he got to know of Naina's murder.

    He then hired his lawyer, who moved for an interim bail. After this, the lawyer and he travelled to Tirupati to visit the Venkateswara Temple. Sharma even got his head tonsured and his moustache shaved off.

    After his bail was struck down by a higher court, Sharma and his lawyer came to Vellore and reached Bengaluru (then Bangalore) to surrender before the police.

    Expand
  4. 4. What Challenges Did the Police Face?

    As gruesome crimes grab the national attention, disinformation often finds its way to disperse among the public.

    In the case of Naina Sahni, it was the first autopsy report.

    A doctor of the Lady Hardinge Medical College, who had performed the first autopsy, had concluded that the body was chopped before being disposed of in the tandoor. The doctor concerned had rejected the premise by the police that death was caused due to injury by a bullet.

    This observation was contrary to the claim by the police that Naina Sahni's death was caused due to injury caused by a bullet wound with the shot being fired from a very close range.

    The police had retrieved bullets and empty cartridges from Sushil Sharma's flat at Delhi's Mandir Marg where traces of blood were found on the mattress in the bedroom.

    It was the second autopsy report that favoured the sequence of events as was established by the Delhi Police in its probe.

    Years later, Maxwell Pereira, who investigated the murder, had revealed that despite the police’s best efforts, no one believed that Sharma had not chopped up his wife’s body.

    “We took pains to tell everybody that there was no chopping (of the body), but the chopping made it sensational. Nobody would give it up,” he said.

    Sharma was sentenced to death by a trial court in 2003, which was upheld by the Delhi High Court in 2007. On 8 October 2013, the Supreme Court commuted Sushil Sharma’s death sentence to life imprisonment.

    On 21 December 2018, the Delhi High Court ordered the immediate release of convict Sushil Sharma, after senior counsel N Hariharan, appearing for Sharma appealed to the high court that Sharma had no criminal antecedents – and that he was soon to turn 60 years old. Hariharan had also pointed out that Sharma's conduct in the Tihar jail had been satisfactory.

    While gruesome murders shake the public conscience, it is important that the conversation around women's safety, the patriarchal power relation between men and women, and a family's support for their daughters, does not get lost in the intricacies of crime.

    (At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

    Expand

What Was the Case?

Naina Sahni was a member of the Congress party, holder of a pilot’s license, and owner of a boutique, all before turning 30. She was murdered by her husband Sushil Sharma, a youth Congress leader, who had shot her over suspicion of her having an extramarital affair.

The crime took place at their home in Delhi on 2 July 1995. While the crime, like in the case of Walkar, was less gruesome in execution, it was equally brutal when it came to making the evidence disappear.

At the time, Naina had been planning to move to Australia, for which she had taken the help of a former partner.

Amid rising confrontations and feelings of jealousy, accompanied by a lack of success in politics, Sushil Sharma took the extreme step and shot his wife with a revolver.

After shooting his wife, Sharma contemplated disposing of the body in river Yamuna. However, after finding traffic on the ITO bridge at around 9.30 pm, the accused formulated another way.

ADVERTISEMENT

How Did the Killer Dispose of the Body?

After failing to dump the body in Yamuna river, Sharma decided to burn the body in a a tandoor or clay oven of Bagiya Bar-Be-Que restaurant in Hotel Ashok Yatri Niwas.

Sushil reached the restaurant at 10.15 pm. His car was seen by a security guard, Mahesh Prasad, who recorded its entry in the register.

The killer then calls Keshav Kumar, manager of the Bagiya, and tells him about the crime.

Compelled by loyalty, Kumar follows Sharma's orders and gets the restaurant closed and send the staff home.

The two then go on to form a pyre over the tandoor, with the victim's body, wood, and party propaganda material.

ADVERTISEMENT

How Was Sushil Sharma Captured?

The evidence would have been destroyed had an elderly vegetable vendor not screamed after seeing the rising flames of the fire.

Constable Ahmad Nazir Kunju, while doing the rounds, had tried investigating the fire but was told by Sharma that the latter was burning old election posters.

After his attention was caught again, the constable jumped the hotel wall and saw two men fanning the large fire over a tandoor.

When he got closer, the constable saw a human torso sticking out of the tandoor. He doused the flames and found a charred body.

While Bagiya manager Keshav Kumar was arrested immediately, Sharma had gone missing before more police personnel arrived at the spot.

Sharma initially claimed that he had left home on a "pilgrimage" on Sunday morning. What followed was a series of visits to various destinations. He claimed that it was in Chennai (then Madras) that he got to know of Naina's murder.

He then hired his lawyer, who moved for an interim bail. After this, the lawyer and he travelled to Tirupati to visit the Venkateswara Temple. Sharma even got his head tonsured and his moustache shaved off.

After his bail was struck down by a higher court, Sharma and his lawyer came to Vellore and reached Bengaluru (then Bangalore) to surrender before the police.

ADVERTISEMENT

What Challenges Did the Police Face?

As gruesome crimes grab the national attention, disinformation often finds its way to disperse among the public.

In the case of Naina Sahni, it was the first autopsy report.

A doctor of the Lady Hardinge Medical College, who had performed the first autopsy, had concluded that the body was chopped before being disposed of in the tandoor. The doctor concerned had rejected the premise by the police that death was caused due to injury by a bullet.

This observation was contrary to the claim by the police that Naina Sahni's death was caused due to injury caused by a bullet wound with the shot being fired from a very close range.

The police had retrieved bullets and empty cartridges from Sushil Sharma's flat at Delhi's Mandir Marg where traces of blood were found on the mattress in the bedroom.

It was the second autopsy report that favoured the sequence of events as was established by the Delhi Police in its probe.

Years later, Maxwell Pereira, who investigated the murder, had revealed that despite the police’s best efforts, no one believed that Sharma had not chopped up his wife’s body.

“We took pains to tell everybody that there was no chopping (of the body), but the chopping made it sensational. Nobody would give it up,” he said.

Sharma was sentenced to death by a trial court in 2003, which was upheld by the Delhi High Court in 2007. On 8 October 2013, the Supreme Court commuted Sushil Sharma’s death sentence to life imprisonment.

On 21 December 2018, the Delhi High Court ordered the immediate release of convict Sushil Sharma, after senior counsel N Hariharan, appearing for Sharma appealed to the high court that Sharma had no criminal antecedents – and that he was soon to turn 60 years old. Hariharan had also pointed out that Sharma's conduct in the Tihar jail had been satisfactory.

While gruesome murders shake the public conscience, it is important that the conversation around women's safety, the patriarchal power relation between men and women, and a family's support for their daughters, does not get lost in the intricacies of crime.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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