8 years and a shameful wait later, a chargesheet!
A special court in Pune has framed charges against the 5 accused in Dabholkar murder case.
“Eight years ago, when doctor was murdered, we raised our voices saying that there is a possibility of a bigger conspiracy. We had warned that if the murderers are not caught soon, this could happen again. Unfortunately, the investigation agencies did not pay serious attention to it,” says Dr Hamid Dabholkar, son of Dr Narendra Dabholkar.
Anti-superstition activist Dr Narendra Dabholkar was murdered in Pune in August 2013 during his morning walk on the Vitthal Ramji Shinde (Balgandharva) bridge. In the years that followed, three other like-minded activists Govind Pansare (Kolhapur), MM Kalburgi (Dharwad) and Gauri Lankesh (Bengaluru) were murdered, in attacks that showed stark similarities with the assassination of Dr Dabholkar.
Dr Narendra Dabholkar was murdered in August 2013. In the years that followed, three other like-minded activists were slain.
After the long wait of eight years, a tragic farce of the then Pune police commissioner resorting to planchet and black magic to help in investigation, three governments and more such similar assassinations of like-minded activists, a special court in Pune finally framed charges against the five accused in the case. While it is still a milestone, Hamid says bringing them to justice is still a long journey ahead.
Of the five, Virendra Singh Tawade, Sachin Andure, Sharad Kalaskar and Vikram Bhave were charged under Indian Penal Code (IPC) Sections 302 (murder), 120 (B) (criminal conspiracy), 34 (common intention), relevant sections of the Arms Act, and Section 16 of the stringent Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) (punishment for terrorist act). Adv. Sanjeev Punalekar was charged with IPC Section 201 (causing disappearance of the evidence of offence or giving false information to screen offender). None of the accused pleaded guilty. The framing of charges will now lead to the commencement of a criminal trial against the accused. The further proceedings for the trial in the case have been scheduled for September 30.
“It is indeed an important development in the case. Although masterminds behind the murders have not been caught yet, at least those who committed the act have been caught. Charges have been framed against them, so now the trial will begin. I think that the writ petition that we had filed in the High Court in this regard, following which the court followed up the matter, helped. MANS activists, people also supported us throughout. And the HC has also directed the investigating agencies to continue the probe until the masterminds are nabbed,” Hamid said. For the past eight years, activists and supporters of Maharashtra Andhashraddha Nirmoolan Samiti (MANS) have been gathering at the Balgandharva bridge where Dabholkar was arrested on the 20th of every month. With slogans, candle marches and black ribbons, the activists demanded justice for their fallen leader.
Maharashtra has seen three different state governments in the last eight years since the fateful morning of August 20, 2013. Congress-Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) were in power when the incident occurred. The very next year, they were replaced with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-Shiv Sena government. And now, there is the Maha Vikas Aghadi Government. “Unfortunately, none of these governments positively aided the investigation in any way. The progress in the case can only be accredited to the follow up by the court and the common people,” Hamid said.
He also pointed out that there was definitely a lot of lethargy as far as the investigation in the Dabholkar murder case was involved. “I cannot say if it was deliberate, but there was definitely a lot of slack as far as the investigation was concerned. In fact, the developments in the investigation of other murders, especially that of Lankesh, pointed towards evidence that led to development in our case,” Hamid added.
As said above, Hamid strongly believes that if the investigation was faster and more efficient, the murders that followed Dabholkar’s could possibly have been prevented. “It has been revealed that a common set of pistols have been used in all four murders, the similarities cannot be ignored. Even before that, the investigation against the suspects in the Malegaon bomb blasts was inadequate. I would say that if that investigation was conducted more persuasively, may be Dr Dabholkar’s murder could have been averted. So there is no doubt that the carelessness of the investigation agencies has reflected throughout this whole case,” he said.
This slack in the investigation could also affect the forthcoming trial and make it more challenging, legal experts now believe. “This was a case of contract killing. It is anyway difficult to nab murderers in such cases. And allegedly due to the involvement of some powerful people, the murderers got scope to flee. Since significant time has now passed, we now have to see whether the accused can be charged with full murder or not,” said Adv. Aseem Sarode. Meanwhile, the police can continue their investigation and file additional chargesheets later if any.
With the resilient Dr Hamid Dabholkar and Dr Megha Pansare, fighting odds to counter superstition with rationalism pic.twitter.com/4Sh4UhiokH— S. Anandan (@Anandans76) February 2, 2017
Dr Megha Pansare, daughter-in-law of Govind Pansare, expressed hope that trial in Dabholkar case will lead to more revelations in all the four cases. “The investigation in Gauri Lankesh case, Nalasopara blast, led to further developments in all the cases. In our case, there have been four chargesheets. But the investigation is still ongoing. There are 13 accused in the Pansare case, out of which two have been granted bail and two are absconding. More importantly, the masterminds are yet to be nabbed. And even though those who pulled the trigger in all the four cases are different, the group behind all these murders is the same,” Megha said.
"Even though those who pulled the trigger in all the four cases are different, the group behind all these murders is the same.”
She added, “When the court ordered framing of charges, we had raised concern in the High Court if starting the trial before the investigation is completed could affect it adversely. Adv. Abhay Nevagi also insisted that it should be ensured that the investigation continues through the trial. The court agreed and the trial will now begin with the consideration that this case is a part of a larger conspiracy.”
However, as tedious as the journey has been, Hamid expresses that framing of charges has been an important milestone. “Even though the investigation agencies took a long time to reach the conclusion of who the murderers are, at least the trial will start now. I would say we are halfway there. Now we wait for the trial,” he said.