The Curious Case of a Doctor’s Death

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Suicide or murder? Dr DK Sakalye (right) was found charred to death in his campus residence
Suicide or murder? Dr DK Sakalye (right) was found charred to death in his campus residence

Under fire already in connection with the Madhya Pradesh Professional Examination Board (MPPEB) scam involving irregularities in various professional recruitment exams, fresh trouble is brewing for Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh after the alleged suicide of Dr DK Sakalye, the dean of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose Medical College, Jabalpur, who was probing the scam.

At 7.30 am on 4 June, Dr Sakalye was found charred to death in the corridor of his residence in the medical college campus. While the police lost no time in calling it a case of suicide, the medical fraternity in Jabalpur refuses to believe that a distinguished forensic expert such as the 64-year-old Dr Sakalye would choose the most painful way to kill himself.

Now, not just the Indian Medical Association (IMA) and the Junior Doctors’ Association (JDA) of the medical college, but also the Opposition Congress party is demanding a CBI probe into the mysterious death.

The alleged suicide of Dr Sakalye has sent shockwaves through the political circles of Madhya Pradesh. At 7 am on the day of the incident, the dean’s wife Bhakti Sakalye had gone out for a morning walk. When she returned, she found her husband’s charred body in the corridor of their house. Upon immediate examination, the chief medical officer declared him brought dead.

From the corridor of Dr Sakalye’s residence, the police recovered a 5-litre can of kerosene (with 3.5 litres kerosene left in it), a matchbox, a bucket and rubber slippers. There was no suicide note. Yet the police called it a case of suicide even before a postmortem was conducted. Later, the police constituted a Special Investigation Team to probe the reason of the dean’s death.

Several questions have been raised over the dean’s death. No one, except the police, is ready to accept this as a case of suicide. Adding to the mystery is the fact that the dean’s viscera was not preserved during the autopsy. The viscera could have revealed more about the possible cause of death than a mere postmortem can.

Dr Arvind Jain, former national vice-president of IMA, told TEHELKA, “The whole matter is highly suspicious. A forensic expert will never resort to self-immolation, the hardest and most excruciating way of killing oneself. Self-immolation is unbearably painful and may not lead to death in every case.”

According to Bhakti Sakalye, she was with her husband 20 minutes before his body was found. Referring to this fact, Dr Jain points out that it is impossible to get 98 percent burns and die within a span of just 20 minutes. “I have talked to several experts. How is it possible for someone to set himself on fire and die in just 20 minutes? Dr Sakalye did not have deep burns. In fact, his back had no burns at all. The texture of the skin also did not seem to suggest that he had 98 percent burns. I don’t believe it,” says Dr Jain. “The evidence collected from the site of the incident points in another direction. The spot where he was burned did not have any marks, neither of kerosene nor of fire. How is it possible? His viscera was not preserved. The police seemed to be in a hurry. They did not collect fingerprints from the spot. Chemical analysis of his skin was also not carried out. These points raise suspicion.”

Dr Jain alleges that the police seem to be under some kind of pressure not to investigate the death properly. “There is something wrong somewhere,” he says.

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SakalyeWhat makes it a suspicious Death

  • Dr Sakalye was the head of the department of forensic science. He was aware of several easy methods of committing suicide and had access to more than 100 different kinds of poison, including arsenic, available in the forensic science laboratory. Consuming arsenic can kill a human being within 30 seconds. Why, then, did he choose such an excruciatingly painful end for himself?
  • Dr Sakalye was a member of the committee probing the MPPEB scam. After he took charge as dean, 93 students who had got admission using fraudulent means had been kicked out of the college. He was under a lot of pressure
  • According to his wife, he was on leave for 20 days. He was depressed because of pressure at work

Doctors Raise a Stink

The doctors who wrote to the Jabalpur Commissioner raised the following points:

  • Since the post of dean is equivalent to that of a commissioner, why did no IPS officer attend his funeral?
  • Since the MPPEB scam involves the state administration, the state police cannot be expected to carry out an unbiased investigation into Dr Sakalye’s death. Therefore, a CBI probe must be conducted
  • Why was evidence collected from the spot not preserved?

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Jabalpur Superintendent of Police Harinarayan Misra told TEHELKA, “The autopsy has confirmed it to be a case of suicide. However, no suicide note has been recovered. No apparent reason for suicide has come to light yet. But the postmortem report confirms that it is definitely not murder. We are questioning people to determine the cause of suicide. As far as the preservation of viscera is concerned, the police can only request for it. The final call on preserving the viscera is taken by the doctors and forensic experts who perform the autopsy. We got five senior doctors to conduct the postmortem.”

The Congress party was quick to hint at possible links between the dean’s death and the fact that he was probing irregularities in the Pre-Medical Test (PMT) conducted by the MPPEB. “Dr Sakalye was probing the PMT scam. During the past one year, he had exposed several fake candidates. He had technical evidence of the scam, so his testimony mattered a lot,” alleged Satyadev Katare, leader of the Opposition in the Madhya Pradesh Assembly.

Dr Sakalye hailed from Harda district in Madhya Pradesh. Bhakti Sakalye is a housewife and their son, Ranjan Sakalye, is an engineer working in Bengaluru. “My father was not the kind of person who would commit suicide. Besides, why would he kill himself? There has to be a reason,” says Ranjan.

Dr Sakalye was appointed dean of the medical college only in October last year.

A group of doctors from Jabalpur wrote to Jabalpur Commissioner Deepak Khandekar, demanding a CBI probe into Dr Sakalye’s death. In the letter, they threatened that if the state government does not announce the probe soon, they would be forced to go on a token strike and adopt other means to pursue their demand.

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