THE Narendra Dabholkar and Govind Pansare investigations are under the scanner again. Recently, the Bombay High Court has passed damning observations against the CBI and the State CID teams that are handling the investigations respectively. More than five years have passed in Dabholkar’s case while more than three years have passed in Pansare’s case with little headway by the two investigating agencies.
The assassins claimed rationalist-activist Narendra Dabholkar on August 20, 2013 while left wing politician and activist Govind Pansare died on February 20, 2015 from bullet wounds inflicted on him on February 16, 2015. Both men had developed a critical base through their writings and their activism and were vehemently disliked by the intolerant, fundamentalist Hindu right wing outfits and spurious god men for their views that boldly questioned superstition, caste inequalities and fabricated histories. They had been threatened at various times as well.
Narendra Dabholkar, Govind Pansare, M.M. Kalburgi and Gauri Lankesh became our modern martyrs as they exercised their right to speak, guaranteed by our Constitution.
Justice S.C. Dharamadhikari, who is the presiding judge along with Justice B.P. Colabawala, has gone on record to reprimand the CID, as well as the State of Maharashtra for its feeble investigation while stressing that freedom of expression in the country is at risk. He has used words like “shameful” saying that these days unless the court intervenes nothing happens in any matter and has called out the CID’s award of Rs 50 lakhs to anyone offering information as “knee-jerk”. He has asked if the CID expects that the public should act like vigilantes and has gone to the extent of saying that perhaps there is more money for those who are keeping quiet. He has further questioned Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis’ lackadaisical interest in the cases saying that the Chief Minister has evidently no time for this.
Lacunae in the Criminal Justice System
Were it not for the Karnataka government’s Special Investigation Team (SIT) that has been probing Gauri Lankesh’s case that shows common links, or for the ATS’ (Anti Terrorism Squad) discovery of explosives and weapons in Nalasopara in Thane district in August 2018, the Dabholkar-Pansare investigations in Maharashtra may not have taken a turn. The Supreme Court has also just ordered an SIT in scholar M.M. Kalburgi’s case, which is being probed on similar lines. Kalburgi (shot on August 30, 2015) and Lankesh (shot on September 5, 2017) were vocal in their opposition of the Hindu Right to subsume the unique identity of the Lingayat sect, the result of a progressive 12th century movement of social reform in Karnataka. The resulting linkages between all these cases are hard to ignore and a common and disturbing narrative emerges. Yet each of these cases is being handled separately. The oddity and the lack of coordination in this can be attributed to political will as well as to the lacunae and challenges in our criminal justice system.
“Policemen have not fallen from the sky. They are part of our society. Part of our system.” And they can be just as scared. Dr. Narendra Dabholkar was not. In his own lifetime he had to face 14 cases that were instituted against him, but he did not allow those to break him.
As advocate Abhay Nevagi who is handling all the three cases of Dabholkar, Pansare, and Kalburgi tellingly says: “Policemen have not fallen from the sky. They are part of our society. Part of our system.” And they can be just as scared. Dr. Narendra Dabholkar was not. In his own lifetime he had to face 14 cases that were instituted against him but he did not allow those to break him. His sanguinity was often marvelled at in the face of adversity, as he kept up with his extraordinary and honourable work.
A fight for hope against hope
Now it is his Gynecologist- wife Shaila Dabholkar’s and his daughter Mukta and son Hamid’s turn. Shaila Dabholkar says with equanimity that the legal battle, however daunting, is by itself enough to do what one must do, whatever the result. Govind Pansare’s wife was attacked with her husband and suffered paralysis because of it. Their daughter-in-law Dr. Megha Pansare, a Professor of Russian, was present at the hearing. This is indeed a tough battle. The investigation thus far with four charge sheets filed altogether in the two cases present all kinds of odds that will be a formidable task to overcome as and when these cases reach the trial stage. It is a fight of hope against hope.
Justice S.C. Dharamadhikari has gone on record to reprimand the CID, as well as the State of Maharashtra for its feeble investigation while stressing that freedom of expression in the country is at risk. He has further questioned Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis’ lackadaisical interest in the cases saying that the Chief Minister has evidently no time for this.
Advocate Abhay Nevagi has however, brought to the notice of the court certain important aspects that have not been properly examined by the investigators though they find mention in the Nalasopara case charge sheet. These aspects also raise questions about the singular roles of the implicated conspirators, Dr Virendrasingh Tawade and Sameer Gaikwad in the Dabholkar investigation while evidence points out that there is something larger and sinister at play. The court has allowed advocate Nevagi to make an application to bring these on record. Meanwhile the courageous families face the routine grind as they travel back and forth from Satara and Kolhapur to the Bombay High Court where the next hearing has now been scheduled for April 26, 2019.
Modern day Martyrs
Narendra Dabholkar, Govind Pansare, M.M. Kalburgi and Gauri Lankesh were people who fought lies and paid with their lives for it. They became our modern martyrs as they exercised their right to speak, guaranteed by our Constitution, which has also urged the inculcation of scientific temper and endeavour against superstition, orthodoxy and prejudice. They were award-winning activists, sports champions, scholars, journalists. Above all, they appear to be victims of terrorism, and this time it is the alleged terrorism of the radicalised Hindu Right that has claimed them.
In many ways we have allowed this homegrown terror to play us under the pretext of a straitjacketed religion and dubious nationalism. We have led ourselves to the point where as Justice Dharmadhikari has said in his observations that there will soon be a time when only few people will be able to speak. This undeclared Emergency is well nigh upon us. How we choose to respond will decide if these precious lives cut short were not entirely in vain. We must also strive to see these vested crimes as a matter of larger public interest. Their cognisance demands our crucial attention and to be able to stand in solidarity with the brave families and the legal minds representing them tirelessly and fearlessly.