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May 10: People are waiting to know who killed Dabholkar?

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On August 19, 2013, 68-year-old doctor Narendra Dabholkar was in Mumbai, pressing for a law to eradicate human sacrifice and black magic. For over 15 years, he has been seeking anti-superstition laws. It was Congress and NCP rule in the state; he met many tall leaders and the next day he returned to Pune. Dabholkar was advised to take protection but he refused. During his 40 years of social work, Dabholkar was attacked and threatened multiple times but 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. Dabholkar was attacking many Hindu practices, such as Havan, Poojan, and some staunch Hindu religious beliefs.

On the morning of August 20, 2013, he was on his morning walk and had just reached the VR Shinde bridge in Pune. He used to go for a walk almost every day. Keeping an eye on his routine, his assassins took advantage. That morning, two men on a motorcycle stopped near him. They pulled out country-made pistols and shot at him three times at close range, once in the head. Dabholkar collapsed and died on the spot. 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.

Primarily, the Pune police conducted the investigation, but the case was handed over to the CBI in 2014. The investigation was monitored by the Bombay High Court and two judges have presided over the trial. The case was probed by two investigating agencies. The weapons and the motorcycle used for the murder haven’t been found, despite numerous agencies being involved. There was no eyewitness in this entire case. A Special Investigation Team (SIT), which included the Pune police, Maharashtra police, and Anti-Terrorism Squad, was formed to catch the culprits. But they also could not find the evidence or culprits; everything was based on guesswork.

However, the same year, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came to power and the agency struggled to obtain administrative and personnel assistance from the state government for the investigation. The Bombay HC, which was supervising the investigation, made multiple strong remarks about the lack of progress. There was tremendous pressure on the government and agencies for failing to probe the series of murders. Five months after the murder, in June 2014, the Pune police arrested arms dealer 24-year-old Manish Nagori and aide 22-year-old Vikas Khandelwal. The police claimed to have found a gun that they said was used to commit the murder. When produced before a court, Nagori claimed that 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. After sifting through millions of phone numbers, 32 police teams failed to make any headway in the investigation, even after a year. Pune police hired retired police officers for the probe, who used mystical practices to communicate with the soul of Dabholkar to know the sequence of the murder. Ironically, while he was alive, the rationalist was opposed to such practices. When the news went viral, the then-Pune police commissioner was transferred.

In the haste, the CBI named two individuals from the Sanatan Sanstha—who were allegedly wanted in another blast case—as the shooters. In 2018, the Maharashtra ATS raided the residence of Vaibhav Raut in Nallasopara, on the outskirts of Mumbai, They found crude bombs and other materials for making bombs. Raut and two of his aides, Andure and Kalaskar, were arrested. During interrogation, Andure and Kalaskar supposedly confessed to their involvement in Dabholkar’s murder. At least 10 other accused in the Nallasopara arms haul were accused of being involved in the four murders. The news spread that Amol Kale, a former convener of Sanatan Sanstha and a leader of Hindu Janjagriti Samiti, was an accused and alleged key conspirator in both the Pansare and Lankesh murder cases. Bharat Kurne, another member of the group, was made an accused in the same cases. Thereafter, the CBI arrested Virendrasinh Tawde, an ENT surgeon volunteer at Sanatan Sanstha. In 2019, the CBI filed a chargesheet against five individuals, including Tawde, Kalaskar, Andure, advocate Sanjiv Punalekar, and his assistant Vikram Bhave. While Tawde, Andure, and Kalaskar remain in custody, Punalekar and Bhave have been released on bail.

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 liked by the Sanatan Sanstha members. Chargesheets filed by three separate investigative agencies—the CBI, a Karnataka SIT, and the Maharashtra SIT—conclude that the murders of the four individuals were connected.

While submitting final arguments in the Dr. Narendra Dabholkar murder case, defence lawyer Virendra Ichalkaranjikar claimed that proper procedure was not followed while granting sanction to prosecute the accused persons under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA). Ichalkaranjikar said that an officer of “deputy secretary” rank in the home department of the state gave the sanction for prosecution under UAPA to CBI without a recommendation from the Director of Prosecution, which is required as per the procedure.

After hearing prolonged arguments from both sides, the special court reserved its verdict for May 10, 2024. The verdict will come more than 10 years after Dabholkar was shot dead on August 20, 2013. Let justice prevail.

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Vaidehi Taman
Vaidehi Taman
Vaidehi Taman an Accredited Journalist from Maharashtra is bestowed with three Honourary Doctorate in Journalism. Vaidehi has been an active journalist for the past 21 years, and is also the founding editor of an English daily tabloid – Afternoon Voice, a Marathi web portal – Mumbai Manoos, and The Democracy digital video news portal is her brain child. Vaidehi has three books in her name, "Sikhism vs Sickism", "Life Beyond Complications" and "Vedanti". She is an EC Council Certified Ethical Hacker, OSCP offensive securities, Certified Security Analyst and Licensed Penetration Tester that caters to her freelance jobs.
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