Arnab Goswami Arrested: What is Abetment of Suicide Case About?

The case relates to the suicide of architect Anvay Naik in 2018. But what will it take to prove abetment of suicide?

Updated
Law
4 min read

Video Editor: Puneet Bhatia

A new front was opened up in Arnab Goswami’s ongoing war with the Maharashtra authorities, after the Republic TV owner Editor-in-Chief was arrested by the Maharashtra Police in the early hours of Wednesday, 4 November.

Goswami stands accused of allegedly abetting the suicide of 53-year-old architect/interior designer Anvay Naik and his mother Kumud Naik in 2018.

But what exactly is this case about?

Why has Arnab been arrested now?

And what does a charge of abetment of suicide entail?

WHAT IS THE CASE ABOUT?

On 5 May 2018, Anvay Naik committed suicide in Alibaug, which falls in the Raigad district of Maharashtra. His mother Kumud Naik was also found dead at their home, but her post-mortem report indicated that she had been strangulated and had not committed suicide herself.

In a suicide note discovered by the local police, Naik said that he and his mother were in acute financial distress, which was why they had decided to take their lives. According to the note, their financial troubles had been caused because large payments owed to his company Concorde Designs Pvt Ltd, had not been paid by three clients:

  1. Arnab Goswami (ARG Outlier/Republic TV) - Rs 83 lakh
  2. Niteish Sarda (Smartworks) - Rs 55 lakh
  3. Feroz Shaikh (IcastX/Skimedia) - Rs 4 crore

An FIR was registered by the Raigad police back in 2018, based on a complaint by Naik’s wife Akshata. According to The Hindu, she had explained that the Republic TV office in the Bombay Dyeing compound in Mumbai had been put together by her husband, but that Goswami had refused to pay the contracted amount to him after he had done the work.

WHY HAS ARNAB BEEN ARRESTED NOW?

The Raigad police investigated the case based on Naik’s wife’s complaint and the suicide note, which had also specifically named Goswami. The Republic TV editor had denied the charges, and said all relevant dues had been paid.

In April 2019 (during the previous Maharashtra government headed by BJP’s Devendra Fadnavis), the Raigad police filed for closure of the case, saying that they had not found sufficient evidence to proceed against the accused named in the suicide note, the Indian Express reports. A judicial magistrate accepted the police’s summary report on 16 April 2019.

But in May 2020 – after the formation of the Shiv Sena-NCP-Congress government in Maharashtra – the state’s home minister Anil Deshmukh had tweeted that he had ordered the CID to re-investigate the case after a complaint from Naik’s daughter Adnya.

Akshata Naik posted a tweet in August asking for justice for their family, calling out Arnab for his coverage of the death of actor Sushant Singh Rajput and repeating her accusation that Goswami had caused the death of her husband.

Arnab Goswami’s arrest (along with other two men named in the suicide note) on Wednesday by the police, and his transfer to Raigad, are in connection with the re-opened investigation.

This case and Goswami’s arrest have nothing to do with the ongoing investigations by the Mumbai Police into Goswami and Republic, whether in the fake TRP case, the Palghar lynching coverage case or their shows targeting the Mumbai police.

HAS ARNAB/REPUBLIC RESPONDED?

Republic put out a statement on 4 November reiterating what they had said previously, that all relevant dues – amounting to 90 percent of the total value of the contract – had been paid. They said the remaining 10 percent was supposed to be paid upon completion of other works which had not now taken place.

They also asserted that they had made attempts to make a full and final settlement with Naik’s wife Akshata and daughter Adnya, but had note received a response from them. They claim that they attempted to pay the remaining dues also to Naik’s company’s bank account in July 2019, but that the account was inoperative.

WHAT IS NEEDED TO PROVE A CHARGE OF ABETMENT OF SUICIDE?

Section 306 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) is the provision which deals with ‘abetment of suicide’.

The term ‘abetment’ covers instigation, conspiracy or aiding in some crime – in the context of suicide, it normally refers to instigation of the person who has committed suicide.

According to the Supreme Court, for a person to be convicted under this charge, they need to have a clear intention to instigate the suicide, and some action by them which makes the deceased think they have no other option. This requirement was summarised by Justice Dalveer Bhandari in M. Mohan vs The State (2011) as follows:

“The intention of the legislature and the ratio of the cases decided by this court are clear that in order to convict a person under Section 306 IPC, there has to be a clear mens rea to commit the offence. It also requires an active act or direct act which led the deceased to commit suicide seeing no option and this act must have been intended to push the deceased into such a position that he/she committed suicide.”

On this basis, even if it is proved that Goswami failed to pay the amounts he owed to Naik and his company, it may not be particularly easy for the Maharashtra Police to successfully prosecute him for abetment of suicide as it will be hard to prove any intent from him to drive Naik to take his own life.

However, there have been some recent judgments of the Supreme Court by the recently-retired Justice Banumathi which did not apply such a strict standard when it comes to abetment of suicide.

It may, therefore, be possible that a case could be built on showing that Goswami knew about the financial situation of Naik and his mother and that his failure to pay them the money he owed them would leave them in dire straits.

It remains to be seen what direction the questioning takes and whether the Maharashtra Police have been able to unearth some new details.

(If you feel suicidal or know someone in distress, please reach out to them with kindness and call these numbers of local emergency services, helplines, and mental health NGOs.)

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