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Narendra Dabholkar murder case: Special Pune Court convicts two, acquits three, including key accused Tawde

Reading out the order in a packed courtroom, Additional Sessions Judge Special Court P P Jadhav said that the prosecution had proved the charges of murder and conspiracy against Sachin Andure and Sharad Kalaskar and they have been awarded life imprisonment and a fine of Rs 5 lakh. According to the Central Bureau of Investigation CBI, Andure and Kalaskar had shot Dabholkar. The court acquitted accused ENT surgeon Tawde, Sanjeev Punalekar and Vikram Bhave for want of evidence.

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A special court for UAPA cases in Maharashtra’s Pune on Friday convicted and sentenced two men to life imprisonment and acquitted three, including key accused Virendrasinh Tawde, in the murder of well-known rationalist Dr Narendra Dabholkar. Dabholkar (67), an anti-superstition crusader, was shot dead while on a morning walk on Omkareshwar Bridge here on August 20, 2013. Reading out the order in a packed courtroom, Additional Sessions Judge (Special Court) P P Jadhav said that the prosecution had proved the charges of murder and conspiracy against Sachin Andure and Sharad Kalaskar and they have been awarded life imprisonment and a fine of Rs 5 lakh.

According to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), Andure and Kalaskar had shot Dabholkar.

The court acquitted accused ENT surgeon Tawde, Sanjeev Punalekar and Vikram Bhave for want of evidence. The prosecution examined 20 witnesses while the defence examined two witnesses during the trial. The accused were opposed to Dabholkar’s crusade against superstition, it had stated in its final arguments.

Pune police initially probed the case. The CBI took over the probe in 2014 following a Bombay High Court, order and arrested Tawde linked to the Hindu right-wing organisation Sanatan Sanstha, in June 2016.

According to the prosecution, Tawde was one of the masterminds of the murder.

Sanatan Sanstha, to which Tawde and some of the other accused were linked, was opposed to the work carried out by Dabholkar’s organisation, the Maharashtra Andhashraddha Nirmoolan Samiti (committee for eradication of superstition, Maharashtra), it claimed.

The CBI first named fugitives Sarang Akolkar and Vinay Pawar as the shooters in its charge sheet. But later it arrested Sachin Andure and Sharad Kalaskar, and claimed in a supplementary charge sheet that they had shot Dabholkar.

Subsequently, the central agency arrested advocate Sanjeev Punalekar and Vikram Bhave as alleged co-conspirators.

During the trial, advocate Virendra Ichalkaranjikar, one of the defence lawyers, had questioned the CBI’s flip-flop over the shooters’ identity.

The accused were booked under Indian Penal Code sections 120 B (conspiracy ), 302 (murder), relevant sections of the Arms Act, and section 16 (Punishment for terrorist act ) of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act or UAPA.

While Tawde, Andure and Kalaskar are in jail, Punalekar and Bhave are out on bail.

Dabholkar’s murder was followed by the murders of three other rationalists/activists in the next four years: communist leader Govind Pansare (Kolhapur, February 2015), Kannada scholar and writer M M Kalburgi (Dharwad, August 2015) and journalist Gauri Lankesh (Bengaluru, September 2017).

It was suspected that the culprits in these four cases were linked to each other.

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