The Tandoor Murder

Love triangles in a marriage can cut both ways. The “woh” can be a man too. The incident of Naval Officer K.M. Nanavati gunning down his wife’s paramour, in the late fifties, has not been forgotten. Truth be told, it is beyond doubt that a man and a woman are both equally likely to wander (and wonder) in a marriage and that there is no reason to paint the wife in a shade harsher than the husband; or a shade more complimentary.

Previously, I had commented on the matter of Pinakin Mahipatray Rawal v. State of Gujarat. The analysis in Pinakin involved a husband-wife-other woman matrix. The Hon’ble Supreme Court of India while enquiring into the alleged extra marital relationship of the husband – almost brushed it aside – and even added in its novel Baba Ramdevesque tone that, “too much of possessiveness could also lead to emotional stress”. The same caution should be attached to a husband-wife-other man matrix. But in Sushil Sharma v. State of NCT of Delhi, [(2014) 4 SCC 317] pronounced by no less than a wise head of the fairer sex, that caution seems all but lost.


Sushil Sharma was the President of the Delhi Youth Congress and his wife, Naina, the General Secretary of its Girl Wing. Naina had a relationship with one Matloob Karim before marriage. It was well established by evidence that Naina and Sushil used to fight often. Some of their fights had, at its root, Sushil’s disinclination to make the marriage public. Some other fights were because Sushil suspected Naina’s fidelity. What did Sushil do, therefore? He directed his peon to keep a watch on his wife. He “restricted her movements because he wanted to stop her from her wayward ways”. And eventually, as a result of this “possessiveness” he murdered her and burnt her in a tandoor. All of this begs the question: what were Naina’s “wayward ways”? According to Matloob’s evidence, which the SC feels has a “ring of truth”, Naina used to call him even after marriage. They used to meet and talk. Naina used to say that she was “trapped” and that Sushil “used to abuse and thrash her on trivial matters” – none of which retrospectively seem as untrue considering her fate lay in a hot tandoor.


There are no aspersions discernible from the judgment that Naina and Matloob’s relationship, post her marriage, went beyond the comfort and solace a woman might very well seek in a former lover. It must be assumed Matloob was a friend. The SC however notes that the evidence of Matloob is “criticized on the ground that he is not a person of good character because he admitted that even after marriage, he continued to have a relationship with the deceased”. The judgment does not describe the relationship as sexual. Further still, while enumerating the “mitigating circumstances” the SC holds that Sushil was “deeply in love” with his wife and knowing fully well that Naina was close to Matloob, he married her hoping that she would “settle down”. But “unfortunately” Naina was still “in touch” with Matloob; That, the murder was a result of “possessiveness” – an outcome of “a strained personal relationship” – which was not an offence against society.

We are not discussing here today whether the death penalty of Sushil should at all have been commuted to life imprisonment; or why the “shock to the collective conscience” parameter was forgotten completely. Our objective, instead, is to find the judicial interpretation of the “Pati, Patni aur Woh” conundrum. And Hon’ble Justice Ranjana Prakash Desai would have us men believe that a) you cannot keep in touch with a woman after she is married; b) that, if you do your character is of questionable merit; c) that, married women should settle down; d) that, by settling down it is meant that she should avoid talking to her former loverand f) that, if she still does talk to him/them it is unfortunate. If the tenor of the judgment in Pinakin meant to say your husbands may develop some liking for another woman – but, please darling, do not get so possessive the tenor of the judgment in Sushil certainly is, dear wife, if you find another man – you have it coming.


Here is an excerpt from Sunetra Choudhury’s Behind Bars – Prison Tales of India’s Most Famous, ‘The Tandoor Murderer’, (Roli Books, 2017):

‘I kept thinking what if I had arrived 2 minutes later. That’s all. Just 2 minutes. I would not have done this.’ It was again a coincidence and a chance that Sushil Sharma came home to his Mandir Marg Flat and found his wife, Naina Sahni, on phone. ‘I asked her who she was talking to and she said to her family. I pressed redial and realized it wasn’t her family, but someone else.’ Sushi had heard about Naina’s affair with Matloob and it had resulted in terrible discord in their marriage. But that night, the violence went to some other level altogether. ‘We started fighting and it was so bad that she tried to commit suicide. That’s when out of anger, I reached for my gun and shot her twice.’ Sushil at no point denies that he killed Naina Sahni. What he does deny is that he chopped her body into pieces so that it could be cooked in the tandoor to become the perfect murder. Sushil cites the 2013 Supreme Court judgment which said ‘no opinion could be given as to whether the dead body was cut, as dislocation could be due to burning of the dead body. There is no recovery of any weapon like chopper which could suggest that the appellant had cut up the dead body.’ In other words, if he did indeed chop her up, the police didn’t find the weapon that was used and so this wasn’t conclusively proved. Sushil claims it was the impact of the heat that made her limbs fall apart. 

The first letter he got in jail was from the notorious bikini killer Charles Sobhraj. Accused of more than 20 murderers, Sobhraj was serving the last three years of his jail term in India when Sushil Sharma arrived. 

‘Dear Sushilji, you have no reason to worry. Tell me if you need anything.’ CS



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