I Knew Sunanda. But I Can't Say If She Killed Herself

Published: January 07, 2015 12:19 IST
(Suhel Seth is Managing Partner of Counselage: India's only strategic brand advisory.)

With due apologies to Shakespeare, there is obviously something rotten in the state of India.

We have invented the art of public trials with allegations which are hurtful and insensitive and made a mockery out of every institution that is supposed to be righteous and moral.

When Sunanda Tharoor was declared dead on the night of January 17, 2014, even she wouldn't have imagined how her death would spark indignation and rage, conjecture and mystique, but rarely empathy and grief. The fact that the investigations into her death were more of a public spectacle rather than getting down to the truth is what saddens me.

Let me make full disclosure: Sunanda was a very dear friend of mine and I knew her long before either she met Shashi Tharoor or before I knew Shashi. I became a friend of Shashi's because I knew Sunanda. Did I know Sunanda so well that I could jump to conclusions about her vivacity or her joi-de-vivre? I guess not. And no one does. I am amazed at the utterances of her so-called 'friends' who are near certain that she could have never taken her own life. I, for one, will not jump to such conclusions.

All three possibilities are up in the air. She could have knowingly taken her own life; she could have accidentally overdosed on whatever she is supposed to have been taking; or someone could have killed her.

The fact that on the afternoon of January 6, 2015, almost a year after Sunanda's passing on, the Delhi Police Commissioner, a fine cop at that, says in a press statement that hers was an unnatural death should suffice. The Commissioner went on to add that samples would be sent abroad perhaps for better results and I guess neutrality is something we should consider responsibly. But then what erupted on social media and then in the evening on national television is distressing. Many on both platforms were vultures and nothing less. People forgot that in the wake of her death she left behind a crestfallen husband, an orphaned son and a family immersed in grief.

But then do we care about all of this? We don't. Because we have become a nation that lives in the moment. We live to make other people fall. The alacrity with which Shashi Tharoor was condemned was initially amusing but later very anguishing; add to that the grand-standing by the two national political parties  and this whole trial-by-media comes across as sordid and pernicious.

We cannot hope to be a civilized society if such is the brand of our behaviour. We cannot hope for the rule of law to prevail if television anchors become cops and judge every evening. We cannot hope for fairness in justice if investigations take so long that they lose both steam and credibility and this is what happened with Sunanda's death.

It is not my place to conjecture how she died. That is for the police and the courts to rule. But it is my place to sound an alarm at our societal norms. We did that more recently in the Aarushi Talwar murder case and we are doing it now. We are slowly morphing into a country that operates on intolerance coupled with unbridled rage, both of which have no grounds to exist in a society that wants to progress on the back of dignity and equality. Something will give way.

In many ways, just as when she lived, in her death, Sunanda Tharoor is teaching us one vital lesson. Being human is far more important than being judgmental. And I wish for her sake and for the sake of this fine country, we learn the lesson and learn it well.

Sometimes the dead teach us how to live. And I hope we learn this lesson with equanimity and humility.

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