Breakthrough in Dabholkar murder case

Print edition : July 08, 2016

Virendrasinh Tawade in CBI custody in Mumbai. Photo: Yogesh Mhatre

THREE years after the rationalist thinker Narendra Dabholkar was gunned down in Pune on August 20, 2013, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has made its first arrest in the case—Dr Virendrasinh Tawade, a 48-year-old ENT specialist. He was arrested from his home in Panvel, north of Mumbai. Tawade is believed to be a member of the Sanatan Sanstha and the Hindu Janajagruti Samiti, both self-professed Hindutva organisations.

The case was initially investigated by the Maharashtra Police, but the Bombay High Court took notice of a public interest petition filed by the former journalist Ketan Tirodkar that there was no progress in the case several months after the killing and ordered the CBI to take over the investigation. The CBI filed an FIR on May 9, 2014.

The investigations, among other things, focussed on communication forensics and tracking emails between Tawade and Sarang Akolkar, who is apparently a member of the same organisations. Akolkar has been on the run since 2009 when the National Investigation Agency (NIA) named him in the Murgaon church explosion case in Goa. An Interpol Red Corner notice against him, on since 2012, describes his category of offences as “terrorism, crimes involving the use of weapons/explosives”.

Dabholkar had campaigned for several decades against black magic and similar superstitious practices, and debunked several so-called godmen in the process.

The crusade led by his Maharashtra Andhashraddha Nirmoolan Samiti (committee for eradication of superstitious practices) brought him many enemies, among them the Sanatan Sanstha and the Hindu Janajagruti Samiti.

The Sanstha website identifies itself as “pro-Hindu”. The Janajagruti Samiti website says the organisation wants to “establish a Hindu nation”.

The Sanstha website denies any involvement of its “seekers” (as it members are referred to). It says, “Dr Tawade is innocent” and claims that there is “persecution of Hindutvavadis [owing to] sweeping changes in the political scenario”. The CBI maintains that Tawade is one of the key conspirators in the case. Its investigations also point to his involvement in the killings of Govind Pansare and M.M. Kalburgi in 2015.

The Maharashtra Prevention and Eradication of Human Sacrifice and other Inhuman, Evil and Aghori Practices and Black Magic Act, 2013, the country’s first comprehensive law against black magic and other superstitious practices, was enacted on December 13, 2013, four months after Dabholkar was killed.

Narendra Dabholkar’s son, Hamid Dabholkar, has maintained that his father’s killers were motivated by ideology.

He said:

“We always knew my father’s murder had nothing to do with personal enmity. We knew it was to do with ideological differences.

“Initially the Maharashtra Police and the CBI did not believe this. They explored all competing theories—the possibility of godmen being involved, the personal enmity angle, they even interrogated all the known ‘supari’ killers on their list. Even after this exercise no links were found.

“Then came the arrest of Samir Gaikwad [a member of the Sanatan Sanstha] for Govind Pansare’s murder. And following that the Karnataka CID [Criminal Investigation Department] said the two weapons used were the same in the murders of Pansare, Kalburgi and my father. When all this was put in perspective, it was obvious there was no personal enmity angle to the killing. It was an organised crime and the common thread that linked all three murders was that all three men were talking about constructive criticism of religion.

“The Sanatan Sanstha and the Hindu Janajagruti Samiti are the only two organisations that are violently opposed to this sort of thinking. In fact on August 21, 2013, the day after my father was killed, the ‘Sanatan Prabhat’, which is the mouthpiece of the Sanatan Sanstha, celebrated his death. There was an article in it that said that his killing was a good thing and that all dharmadrohis (those who oppose religion) should be punished in this way.”

He added that these two organisations had their operations in the Pune, Sangli, Satara, Kolhapur, Dharwad region, where all three murders took place. “When you connect the dots, it’s very clear that there are no competing theories. My father and the others were killed based on ideology.”

Lyla Bavadam