Decade after killing, court set to rule on rationalist’s murder

Decade after killing, court set to rule on rationalist’s murder
Decade after killing, court set to rule on rationalist’s murder
More than 10 years after Narendra Dabholkar’s killing, a court is expected to soon give its verdict on whether five men arrested are guilty. The verdict could have a bearing on three other killings
NEW DELHI: On the morning of August 20, 2013, 68-year-old doctor Narendra Dabholkar was on his morning walk and had just reached the VR Shinde bridge in Pune. Two men on a motorcycle stopped near him.

The two men are believed to have pulled out country-made pistols and shot him three times at close range, once in the head. The doctor collapsed and died almost instantly. Two sweepers from the civic body, who were present at the bridge, saw the two men get on the motorcycle after the shooting and drive off.
According to investigators, the assailants handed over the motorcycle to a third individual at a location where there were no CCTV cameras.
They then caught a bus and fled to Aurangabad, now renamed Chhatrapati Sambhaji Nagar.
The trial of five men for the killing of rationalist Dr Narendra Dabholkar is set to end on May 10 with a court in Pune expected to pronounce its verdict.
The killing was viewed as one of multiple murders of individuals who were popular rationalists, and were perceived to be anti-Hindu by some. The three others targeted were CPI member Govind Pansare and academic MM Kalburgi in 2015, and journalist Gauri Lankesh in 2017.
Dabholkar was founder of Maharashtra Andhashraddha Nirmulan Samiti (roughly translates to organization for the elimination of superstition in Maharashtra).
The night before he was killed, Dabholkar had returned from Mumbai where he had been pressed for a law to eradicate human sacrifice and black magic. He has been seeking the creation of a law for over 15 years.
During his 40 years of social work, Dabholkar was attacked and threatened multiple times, but he had refused to accept police protection. His work, and the demand for the new law, were viewed as being anti-Hindu and an attack on Hindu religious practices. The law was passed in 2013, after his killing of him.
The probe was monitored by Bombay high court and two judges presided over the trial. The case was probed by two investigating agencies. The weapons and the motorcycle used for the murder have not been found despite multiple agencies being involved.
A misstep to start with
Five members of the Goa-headquartered Hindu group Sanatan Sanstha are accused of orchestrating the murder and destruction of evidence.
A special investigation team (SIT) which included the pune policeMaharashtra police, and anti-terrorism squad (ATS) was formed to catch the culprits.
Five months after the murder, in June 2014, Pune police arrested dealer 24-year-old Manish Nagori and 22-year-old aide Vikas Khandelwal. The police claimed to have found a gun they said was used to commit the murder. When produced before court, Nagori claimed the then ATS chief Rakesh Maria offered them Rs 25 lakh to confess to the murder.
However, the police case fell flat after Pansare was murdered in 2015, allegedly with a gun that matched the one used in the Dabholkar case. After the police failed to file a chargesheet in the stipulated time, Nagori and Khandelwal were released on bail.
Forensic reports later concluded that the gun used to kill Dabholkar was used in the Pansare murder as well. Another gun also used in the killing of Pansare was said to have been used to kill Kalburgi in Dharwad and Lankesh in Bengaluru in 2017.
Turning to the netherworld to solve a murder
After sifting through millions of phone numbers, 32 police teams failed to make any headway after a year.
Journalist Ashish Khetan reported how Pune police hired retired police officers for the probe, who allegedly tried to use occult practices to communicate with Dabholkar’s soul to know the sequence of the murder. Ironically, while he was alive, the rationalist was opposed to such practices. Following the revelations, the Pune police commissioner was transferred.
CBI takes over
RTI activist Ketan Tirodkar filed a petition in Bombay HC in 2014, demanding the probe be given to CBI. Despite the initial objections of the Dabholkar family, the probe was transferred to the agency.
However, the same year BJP took office and the agency struggled to obtain administrative and personnel assistance from the state government for the investigation. Bombay HC, which was supervising the probe, made multiple strong remarks about the lack of progress. In June 2016, CBI arrested Tawde
CBI initially named two other individuals from Sanatan Sanstha – wanted in another blast case – as the alleged shooters. In a supplementary chargesheet in 2018, the agency alleged the shooters were Kalsakar and Andure.
How an arms haul led to the alleged killers
In 2018, when Maharashtra ATS raided the residence of Sanatan Sanstha member Vaibhav Raut in Nalasopara, on the outskirts of Mumbai, they found crude bombs and other material for making bombs. Raut – and two of his aides Andure and Kalaskar – were arrested.
During interrogation, Andure and Kalaskar allegedly confessed to their involvement in Dabholkar’s murder. At least 10 others accused in the Nalasopara arms haul were accused of being involved in the four murders.
For instance, Amol Kale, a former convener of Sanatan Sanstha and a leader of Hindu Janjagriti Samiti, is an accused and alleged key conspirator in both the Pansare and Lankesh murder cases. Bharat Kurne, another member of the group, is an accused in the same cases. Police said members of the group were planning a blast at the 2017 Sunburn music festival in Pune.
The motive
The chargesheets say Dabholkar and three others were targeted because they were seen as a hurdle in the creation of a theocratic state, or a Hindu Rashtra. The victims’ views on superstition, rationalism and secularism – which were frequently expressed in articles and speeches – were not appreciated by Sanatan Sanstha members.
Chargesheets filed by three separate agencies – CBI, a Karnataka SIT and the Maharashtra SIT – concurred that the murders of the four individuals were connected.

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