Monday Musings:Narendra Dabholkar murder case now at trial stage; justice for rationalist in sight?
Every year since 2013, a group of people—mostly activists – gather near the Balgandharva auditorium in Pune during the third week of August, demanding justice for rationalist Narendra Dabholkar. This year was no exception, except there were two groups with the same cause. They gathered on different days holding placards seeking justice to the rationalist. Like every year, Dabholkar’s friends gathered here to rededicate themselves to carrying forward his work and strengthening the movement.
Dabholkar, the genial doctor, social activist, rationalist, writer and editor, was the face of the anti-superstition movement in Maharashtra for more than two decades. As the Dabholkar case has now reached the stage of the trial in Pune court, his supporters and all those who believe in the cause he took up can find a partial solace. After all, the investigation into his murder has on previous occasions meandered, while moving at snail’s pace. Earlier this month, the prosecution submitted a list of 32 witnesses for examination during the trial before the special court which has posted the matter for October 29 for a much-awaited trial.
The yearly scene at Ramji Shinde bridge near Balgandharva, the place where Dabholkar was shot dead by two unidentified gunmen on August 20, 2013, may not be reminiscent of protests during the criminal trial at Los Angeles County Superior Court involving OJ Simpson but the two cases have something in similar if not everything.
On the evening of June 12, 1994, former National Football League player Simpson’s ex-wife Nicole Browne Simpson and her friend Ron Goldman were found stabbed to death. The subsequent arrest of Simpson and the trial afterwards turned the case into black versus white, shown effectively through the crime television series – American crime story – on Netflix. Simpson’s lawyers used his arrest and hearing as “another instance of implicating”, dividing opinion among America’s black and white communities.
Back home, the arrests of right-wing outfit Sanatan Sanstha members in the anti-superstition crusader’s murder hasn’t pleased many left-leaning activists as the case has completed eight years recently. They believe the real mastermind of the Dabholkar murder is still at large and the probe agency has been delaying the arrest of the kingpin. On the other hand, Hindutva organisations including Sanatan Sanstha has refuted their role in the killing saying they are being targeted by the government – the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) which arrested these men comes under the Centre which is controlled by the rightwing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) under Narendra Modi since 2014.
So far, CBI has arrested eight people, including two alleged shooters Sachin Andure and Sharad Kalaskar. The central probe agency, however, had to change its theory about shooters, who according to CBI’s earlier chargesheet were Sarang Akolkar and Vinay Pawar.
Most of these arrests, which came after pressure from the high court, may have helped move the case in court, but those working in the field of anti-superstition aren’t convinced about the progress. After Dabholkar, three other rationalists – Govind Pansare, MM Kalburgi, Gauri Lankesh – were similarly shot dead. Multiple agencies grappled with Dabholkar’s case: the Pune Police formed 30 teams, the crime branch first arrested two men, who were then let off, before finally, the CBI took over in May 2014.
All this while, the movement against superstition has received larger attention after Dabholkar’s murder. From less than 2,000 workers, mainly from Maharashtra, a few years ago, Maharashtra Andhashraddha Nirmoolan Samiti (MANS), the organisation Dabholkar founded in the late 1980s, now has over 6,000 registered members from across the country spreading his message of scientific temper.
However, it also saw schism as cracks developed between members of the Dabholkar family and those running MANS, which he co-founded.