In 2012, a 23-year-old woman died by suicide—leaving behind a note that named a powerful politician Gopal Goyal Kanda and his aide Aruna Chadha as responsible for her death. Both were arrested, charged—and Kanda even confessed. Yet a Delhi court yesterday acquitted him on all charges. And Kanda is being embraced by the BJP as a valuable ally in Haryana.
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Researched by: Rachel John & Aarthi Ramnath
Meet Gopal Goyal Kanda
Born to a father with political ambitions, Kanda started out as a small store-owner in Haryana. He soon expanded into the shoe business in the 90s—and began cultivating political connections. Kanda first cultivated Congress leader Bansi Lal—and then shifted his allegiances to the Chautalas—the ruling family of Indian National Lok Dal (INLD). Then he got into real estate in Gurgaon—and never looked back. In 2007, he launched a domestic airline called MLDR—which went shut down within two years. But that did not dent his political fortunes.
Kanda the politician: In 2009, Kanda won the Sirsa assembly seat as an independent candidate. It was a well-timed victory as the Congress was struggling to cobble together a majority. As a result, Kanda was able to secure the home minister post in return for his support. But within three years, he was arrested on a number of charges related to the suicide of Geetika Sharma—a former air hostess of MLDR airlines.
But, but, but: Kanda was released on bail in 2014—and continued to prosper as a politician. In 2019, he again won the Sirsa seat and was welcomed by the BJP—which was trying to make the majority mark this time around. His hopes for a ministerial berth, however, were stymied by women BJP leaders like Uma Bharti—who flagged the Sharma case. Nevertheless, he has remained a staunch BJP supporter since—declaring, "My family is connected with the RSS since 1926. My father was connected with the BJP."
The payoff: Last week, Kanda was invited to attend the BJP-led NDA alliance meeting in Delhi.
The Geetika Sharma case
The account below is pieced together from Kanda’s confession and the police chargesheet.
How it started: In 2007, at the tender age of 17, Sharma interviewed for an air hostess job at MDLR. That’s when she caught Kanda’s eye:
On seeing Geetika Sharma, I told my board members that this girl is smart and beautiful, so give her the job. Geetika was not yet 18. I said train her for six months and by then she will be 18. She was later handed a trainee cabin crew appointment letter… I liked Geetika a lot, so I quickly appointed her a senior cabin crew member in August 2008.
When the airlines went out of business in 2009, he got her a job at his company—a post that required her to report to him every evening:
Geetika would give me a daily report every evening. Our daily meetings brought us together and I got attracted to Geetika. After the airline shut down,whenever Geetika spoke about leaving the company, I raised her salary and offered a promotion to keep her in my office.
Point to note: The police specifically flagged these unusual ‘benefits’ as attempts to groom and control Sharma:
The police alleged that Geetika’s appointment, rapid promotion and strange service conditions despite her being under-aged and inadequately qualified showed that Mr. Kanda had ‘evil designs’ on her right from the first day and that the “undue favours were given with the intention of entrapping her.”
When it got ugly: Irrespective of the hefty perks, Sharma broke free in 2010—and got a job with Emirates airline in Dubai. Kanda did his best to force her to stay—leaning on her family, refusing to give a no-objection certificate etc. When none of this worked, his HR head Aruna Chadha sent an email to Emirates claiming she had forged her employment papers. When Sharma refused to rejoin Kanda’s company, he escalated the war:
As evidence of the intimidation and forgery, the police have also included in the charge sheet a crude, badly phrased email allegedly sent at the behest of Mr. Kanda to Geetika, threatening her with extradition to Dubai, after she returned from Dubai in October 2010, but refused to rejoin MDLR. The e-mail warned her that an “order for extradition” had been issued against her by a Dubai court and that if she did not reply in a week “the consequence would not be good for her” and that she would be extradited to Dubai with the help of Indian authorities. The email also warned her against fleeing to other countries saying: “We will make sure you will not leave your country…”
The suicide: Perhaps cowed by his threats, Sharma returned to Kanda’s company—and was showered with all sorts of goodies—including director’s post and a BMW car. She seems to have undergone multiple abortions—including one in 2012—flagged by the police as a possible trigger for the suicide. In the days leading up to her death, Kanda and his associates called her mother making sexual aspersions about her character. He also threatened to file an FIR against her if she did not return to work. And that seems to have tipped her over the edge:
[Sharma’s mother] was upset and she narrated all the allegations to Geetika. The 23-year-old was also worried about these aspersions against her getting wide publicity and impacting her future. “Having heard these allegations about her character, Geetika became extremely distressed and depressed and was driven to committing suicide by hanging herself the same night,” the police alleged.
In his confession, Kanda later admitted: “I wanted her to live with me, only me, as my own.” Sharma died by suicide on August 12, 2012.
The acquittal of Gopal Singh Kanda
Over the next 11 years, the case against Kanda slowly fell apart—ground down by a judicial process that favours the powerful—and punishes the innocent. His acquittal on Tuesday was the proverbial final nail.
Dialling down the charges: Initially, the court framed a series of charges against Kanda based on prima facie evidence. The included abetment of suicide, criminal conspiracy, forgery with intention to harm reputation—also rape and unnatural sex. In 2013, the Delhi High Court quashed the rape and unnatural sex charges, saying:
All the more, there is not even a shred of evidence to indicate that co-accused GGK committed sexual intercourse with deceased 'X' or had carnal intercourse against the order of nature with her or that the same was against her (the deceased) will or without her consent.
The reasoning: The lower court had framed these charges—even though the Delhi Police did not accuse Kanda of these offences. They were based instead on the post-mortem report, the statement of the doctor who had performed the abortions and a statement by Chadha—admitting Kanda had a sexual relationship with Sharma. Apparently, that was not good enough for the High Court.
From bad to worse: A year later, the High Court also dismissed sexual exploitation charges against Kanda—and he was released on bail soon after. The same year, it dismissed two pleas seeking cancellation of bail granted by the trial court. Kanda’s confession was also considered inadmissible—as it was unsigned. Adding to the prosecution’s woes, a key witness fled the country—after being contacted by Kanda’s associates.
The acquital: The trial court then focused solely on the charge of abetment to suicide. And here’s what the judge had to say yesterday:
- On Sharma’s note: “The mere naming of accused in suicide note is not enough unless specific acts or instigation on the part of the accused is clearly spelt out.”
- Also: Kanda naturally showered Sharma with perks and gifts—“due to his liking or attraction” towards her.
- As for the victim: “Any sane and prudent person would not socialise or take benefits or favours from the very person, who creates stress and tension in his or her life.”
- The calls from Kanda and his associates to her mother before her death by “no stretch of imagination be construed as an act by which the accused persons intended that the deceased would commit suicide.”
- One reason: Sharma’s mother also died by suicide in 2013 and is not available as a witness—though she left a note blaming Gopal Kanda for her daughter’s death.
[T]he possibility of Geetika staying with some other person in Mumbai on the night of August 3 and “having physical relations with that person” could not be ruled out, adding that the person could have called her on the night of August 4 and said something which “eventually led her to commit suicide”.
Quote to note: Sharma’s brother Ankit and her father have endured 11 years of a gruelling court process. As of 2019, her family had dealt with seven different judges, four different courts and eight different courtrooms—along with harassment from Kanda’s people. Yesterday, Ankit said:
“The moment the court acquitted Kanda, it seemed like the ground beneath my feet was shaking… no one ever treated him like an accused… at every hearing, he was treated by everyone as a well-wisher.”
Another quote to note: Hours after Kanda’s acquittal, the Haryana BJP chief said:
Gopal Kanda is already a part of the BJP-led NDA government in Haryana. The law has worked as per its own course in his case and we believe in following the law…I believe an independent MLA can’t join any other political party as it may invite disqualification of the member from the Assembly. But despite that, if he wants to join us, then he is welcome to do so. It’s his wish.
The bottomline: Which cliche should we trot out today? The process is the punishment? Justice delayed is justice denied? Does it matter?
Indian Express and The Print have the most details on the acquittal. Ankit Sharma spoke to The Quint about the campaign of harassment against the family. The Hindu and The Print have more on the BJP’s embrace of Kanda. This older Indian Express piece has Kanda’s confession—while The Hindu details the police charge sheet.