• Saturday, May 18, 2024

INDIA

Two get life sentence in Indian rationalist Narendra Dabholkar murder case

Sachin Andure and Sharad Kalaskar were given the sentence while Dr Virendrasinh Tawade, Sanjeev Punalekar and Vikram Bhave were acquitted for want of evidence.

Mourners pay their respects over the casket of anti-superstition and black magic campaigner Narendra Dabholkar, who was killed by gunmen, in Pune on August 20, 2013. (Photo by STRDEL/AFP via Getty Images)

By: Twinkle Roy

A COURT in the western Indian city of Pune on Friday (10) handed life imprisonment to two persons in connection with the murder of rationalist Narendra Dabholkar in August 2013, while three were acquitted.

Additional sessions judge (special court) PP Jadhav read out the order in a packed courtroom where he said that the prosecution had proved the charges against Sachin Andure and Sharad Kalaskar. The duo were also fined Rs 5 lakh besides the life sentence.

The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), a top investigating agency, had said that the duo had shot Dabholkar, contradicting its previous claim that had named two other individuals as the killers.

Dr Virendrasinh Tawade, Sanjeev Punalekar and his aide Vikram Bhave were acquitted for want of evidence.

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Dhabolkar’s killing was among a series of murders of people of prominence in different parts of India. Communist leader Govind Panesare was killed in Mumbai in February 2015; Kannada scholar MM Kalburgi was assassinated in Dharwad in the southern state of Karnataka in August the same year while journalist Gauri Lankesh was gunned down in her home town of Bengaluru in September 2017. All these incidents had sparked a nationwide outrage over issues of free speech and hostility towards rational thought and it is suspected that they have common links.

Dabholkar had founded Maharashtra Andhashraddha Nirmoolan Samiti in the late 1980s after leaving medical practice in which he was involved for years and aggressively countered deep-rooted superstitious practices and their supporters.

As the organisation made efforts towards eradication of superstitious activities over the years, Dabholkar also tried to build an anti-superstition legislative framework. In his mission, he had faced opposition not only from various bodies and political parties but also delays in enacting the law by governments.

It may be mentioned here that within days of his assassination, the government of the western state of Maharashtra had passed the Anti-Superstition and Black Magic ordinance, which became law in December the same year.

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In June 2014, the CBI took over the probe following an order from the Bombay High Court and in June 2016, arrested Tawade, an ENT surgeon, linked to a radical outfit named Sanatan Sanstha, which denied its involvement in the murder.

The agency then had said that Tawade was one of the masterminds of the plot. He was also arrested by the police of Maharashtra prior to his arrest in Dabholkar murder case — in connection with the elimination of Pansare, who was shot near his house in Maharashtra’s Kolhapur district (he later succumbed to his injuries in a hospital in Mumbai).

According to the CBI, a long-drawn enmity between Dabholkar and his organisation and the Sanatan Sanstha was the motive behind the rationalist’s murder. In its chargesheet against Tawade in September 2016, the agency named Sarang Akolkar, an absconding Sanatan Sanstha member, and Vinay Pawar, as the two assailants who had killed Dabholkar.

Later in August 2018, the CBI arrested Andure and Kalaskar and contradicting its earlier claim, said it was them who had actually opened fire at the man. While Andure and Kalaskar were also accused in the killing of Pansare, Kalaskar is also an accused in the murder of Lankesh.

In May 2019, CBI arrested Sanatan Sanstha lawyer Sanjeev Punalekar from Mumbai and his aide Vikram Bhave. All the five people were chargesheeted by CBI. A special court had in September 2021 framed charges against the accused, kicking off the trial and they had pleaded not guilty.

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