Rationalists: India

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Additional information may please be sent as messages to the Facebook
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Alka Dhupkar, August 19, 2021: The Times of India

  • Dr Narendra Dabholkar, 68, founder of the Maharashtra Andhashraddha Nirmulan Samiti was shot dead in Pune when he was out on his morning walk on August 20, 2013. Unknown assailants who came on a bike shot him and he died on the spot.
  • Dr Govind Pansare, 82, a member of the Communist Party of India and a labour union leader, was shot on Januray 16, 2015 at his residence in Kolhapur district of Maharashtra. His wife Uma was also hit, but survived. Pansare succumbed in a Mumbai hospital on January 20.
  • Professor M M Kalburgi, 77, was shot dead at his residence in Dharwad in Karnataka early in the morning on August 30, 2015. Kalburgi had retired as vice-chancellor of the Kannada University in Hampi.
  • Gauri Lankesh, 55, editor of Lankesh Patrike, was shot dead outside her residence in Bangalore in Karnataka on September 5, 2015. Lankesh was an outspoken critic of right-wing politics. She was also a champion of Dalit, tribal and minorities’ rights.

The four murders were a blatant attack on one of the most basic democratic values – freedom of expression. It was also an assault on rationalism and secularism. Dabholkar, Pansare, Kalburbi and Gauri Lankesh were silenced by people who did not agree with their views and who wished to warn others holding similar convictions.

How do we know these murders are linked?

Chargesheets filed by three independent investigating agencies – the Central Bureau of Investigation, the Karnataka Special Investigation Team (SIT), and the Maharashtra Special Investigation Team – concur on the point of the murders being connected. The CBI is investigating the Dabholkar murder in Pune. It was handed over the investigations after allegations that the Pune police were bungling it.

The Maharashtra SIT is investigating the Pansare murder in Kolhapur. The SIT mainly comprises officials from the Kolhapur police.

Karnataka SIT is investigating the Kalburgi murder in Dharwad and the gunning down of Gauri Lankesh in Bangalore.

Gauri Lankesh was shot dead outside her residence in Bengaluru in 2015

The Pune and Kolhapur investigations are being monitored by the Bombay high court.

What evidence have the investigators unearthed that links the four murders?

The forensic reports have concluded that the gun used to kill Dabholkar was used in Pansare murder too. The reports call it Weapon ‘A’. In Pansare murder, however, bullets were fired from one more gun. The forensic reports have identified this gun as Weapon ‘B’, which was used to kill Kalburgi in Dharwad and then Gauri Lankesh in Bangalore.

Have any of the weapons been recovered?


Who are the suspects in the case?

That actually is the other link. Every one of the accused arrested so far across the four cases is one way or the other linked to one organisation – the ultra-right Sanatan Sanstha based out of Goa.

The first arrest made in 2016 was that of a senior Sanatan Sanstha member Dr Virendra Tawde. He has been booked for two of the four murders – Dabholkar and Pansare.

In an unconnected case (Madgaon-Goa bomb blast of 2009), the National Investigation Agency is looking for four senior members of Sanatan Sanstha. The CBI has said that two of these four accused were involved in Dabholkar and Pansare murders.

Advocate Sanjeev Punalekar, who has represented Sanatan Sanstha members in several cases, including the Dabholkar and Pansare murders, is also an accused and has been charged with participation in the conspiracy and destruction of evidence. Punalekar was arrested and is out on bail.

Sanatan Sanstha member Vikram Bhave, who spent five years in jail in connection with the Thane and Vashi bomb blasts cases of 2008 and was out on bail when he is suspected to have carried out a recce of the spot where Dabholkar was killed. He is also accused of helping the shooters get rid of the weapons. He was arrested in the Dabholkar murder case and later granted bail.

What, according to the investigative agencies, was the motive?

The chargesheets say that the four were eliminated because they were seen as a hurdle in the creation of a theocratic state – a Hindu Rashtra. Their views of superstition, rationalism and secularism – frequently expressed in newspaper/magazine articles and speeches – were also something that Sanatan Sanstha did not appreciate. All four, on various occasions, were either threatened, heckled or assaulted by Sanatan Sanstha members. For instance, Kalburgi had received threats over a speech he delivered supporting a law to ban superstitious practices.

What were the Thane and Vashi, Navi Mumbai blasts all about?

In June 2008 a low-intensity bomb went off in a parking lot at the Gadkari Rangayatan theatre in Thane. Seven persons were injured. A similar bomb was seized from Vishnudas Bhave Sabhagriha in Vashi four days before the Thane bomb went off.

Both theatres were staging the Marathi play ‘Amhi Pachpute', which the Sanatan Sanstha had objected to for its “misleading” portrayal of Indian mythology. The Sanatan Sanstha had written to the police demanding that the play be banned.

The breakthrough

Investigations in all four murders had not seen much progress until August 10, 2018, when the Maharashtra Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) raided Sanatan Sanstha member Vaibhav Raut’s residence in Nallasopara and seized crude bombs and raw material used in making explosives. Raut and his aides Sachin Andure and Sharad Kalaskar were arrested.

During their interrogation, Andure and Kalaskar confessed to their involvement in Dabholkar’s murder. At least ten other accused in the Nallasopara explosives haul case were later charged with involvement in one or more of the four murders. For instance, Amol Kale, a former convener of Sanatan Sanstha and a leader of Hindu Janjagriti Samiti, is an accused and key conspirator in Pansare and Gauri Lankesh murder cases. Bharat Kurne, a Satana Sanstha member, is an accused in the Gauri Lankesh and Pansare cases.

Who were the other people on the alleged hit-list?

Few of those on the list, investigators claim is in their possession:

Mysuru-based writer and academic K S Bhagwan; Kannada writers Yogesh Master, Chandrashekhar Patil and Banajagere Jayaprakash; former Karnataka Backward Castes Commission chairman C S Dwarkanath; journalist Siddharth Varadarajan; journalist Antara Dev Sen; Goa-based writer and Sahitya Akademi award winner Damodar Mauzo; professor with the Hindi translation department of the Jawaharlal Nehru University Chaman Lal; and Punjabi playwright Atamjit Singh.

The police had alerted many other writers and journalists and offered police protection to them in the past. They are: journalist Nikhil Wagle; journalist and Rajya Sabha member Kumar Ketkar; and writer-activist Ganesh Devy.

What’s the current status of the four cases?

Narendra Dabholkar case: First and supplementary chargesheets filed by the CBI. The Bombay high court has given a go-ahead for the trial to start. Charges have not been framed.

Govind Pansare case: First and supplementary chargesheets filed. Charges yet to be framed. Bombay high court has given its go-ahead for a trial to start.

M M Kalburgi case: A chargesheet has been filed. Trial yet to start. There are six accused in the case.

Gauri Lankesh: First and supplementary chargesheets filed. The SIT has invoked the stringent Karnataka Control of Organised Crime Act (KCOCA). The Karnataka high court dropped KCOCA against one accused Prakash Nayak. Kavitha Lankesh, Gauri's sister, has challenged this in the Supreme Court.

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