Scarlett & Sonali: Two girls, two deaths, two high-profile cases

Both cases were registered as murder due to pressure
Scarlett case had a bearing on the tourism industry. Sonali case too has brought Goa's drug trade into focus.
Scarlett case had a bearing on the tourism industry. Sonali case too has brought Goa's drug trade into focus.

Goa will never be allowed to forget the unfortunate death of Scarlett Keeling in February 2008.

The British minor was left to die on Anjuna beach after consuming a cocktail of drugs and alcohol, and comparisons are now being made with the death of Tik Tok star Sonali Phogat.

There are similarities and differences. But first, the differences.

While Sonali was last seen alive at Curlie’s Shack in Anjuna, the circumstances that led to Scarlett’s death unfolded at Luis Cafe also in Anjuna.

Another key difference is that Scarlett’s death was due to drowning in shallow water while Sonali overdosed on MDMA, a recreational drug.

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Having been left on the beach in an intoxicated state, the British girl was unable to deal with the rising tide which overtook and drowned her. However, it was the semi-naked state in which her body was found that raised suspicions of sexual assault and murder.

This is where the differences end and the similarities take over.

In both cases, the investigation began on an innocuous note with the police registering a case of unnatural death, but later blew up into high-profile probes after the kin raised suspicions of murder.

In the case of Scarlett Keeling the police found themselves in a legal quandary. They could not register her death as murder because the cause of death was listed as drowning.

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Under pressure from the family and media, a second autopsy was conducted. The findings of the second once corroborated the first autopsy, except for one detail, which was the insertion of a line which stated, “the case may be investigated as murder”.

Despite this line, the police still had a problem so Scarlet’s mother was advised to file a complaint of murder, which became the basis for the murder investigation.

It also became a precedent for the Sonali Phogat investigation.

When the doctors initially said the Tik Tok star had suffered a heart attack it looked like the investigations would lead nowhere. That was until her brother arrived in Goa and filed a complaint of murder against Sudhir and Sukhwinder.

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The autopsy was hurried through and forensic experts, while reserving the case of death, pointed to multiple blunt force injuries.

In both cases, the injuries to the bodies of the two girls were debated, discussed and analysed in great detail. In the Sonali case, it was used as a peg on which to hang the murder charge.

The IPC sections invoked in both cases were 302 (murder) and 328 (administering poison or drugs on any intoxicating substance with the intent of causing a crime).

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While in the Scarlett case the Central Bureau of Investigation was finally brought in to prosecute the case, there is a strong clamour for a probe by the CBI into the death of Phogat.

So, how did the Scarlett Keeling case end?

The CBI decided to drop the murder and culpable homicide not amounting to murder charges and went along with Section 328.

The two accused — Samson D’Souza and Placid Carvalho, were acquitted by the Children’s Court. However, Samson was held guilty by the High Court and sentenced to 10 years of rigorous imprisonment.

It is too early to predict how the Sonali Phogat investigation will progress, but it looks like Section 328 could be the hammer with which to nail the accused.

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