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Professor Sabharwal’s murder probe in trouble

March 5, 2007

In August last year, the police arrested three people from the Akhil Bhartiya Vidyarthi Parishad in connection with the death of a professor in an Ujjain college on the 26th of August 2006. The three had allegedly been caught on camera beating up the professor during an altercation which resulted because of the cancellation of the general student body elections. There was video footage of the murderous beating available with a television channel and the police were forced to make the arrests. It was a most shocking incident as the murder had taken place in broad daylight in the presence of policemen and college staff. Unfortunately the footage is not available for public viewing now, but presumably this is because the case is with the courts.
But all is not well. The latest news is that the college peon Komal Singh, librarian Govind Kushwaha, ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Sanwar Patel, sports teacher Manohar Dodia and another peon, Naval Kishore, have all refused to identify the attackers! There were altogether 40 witnesses at the scene and seven of them were eyewitnesses. But apparently this was not enough. The witnesses have turned hostile.

Is anyone really surprised? Scandalised? Not really. Right from the start, there was a reluctance to investigate. There was a delayed filing of the FIR (First Information Report) inspite of several police officers, the sub divisional magistrate and the Additional District magistrate being present during the murder. Next, the FIR did not mention any eyewitnesses or in fact anybody who had witnessed the incident. This in itself gave us an inkling of what could come later. Only media pressure forced the police to register the case.

What is going to happen now? Will this case die a quiet death or will it rise and consume the killers? Well, only media and public awareness can help bring pressure on the government to give up the killers. It was only because of media pressure that several cases were brought to a reasonable end in recent times.

In fact, witnesses turning hostile is nothing new. The most dramatic and sensational turnaround in recent history was that of seven witnessses, including Zahira Sheikh in the Best Bakery case. They turned hostile even though they were allegedly witnesses to an incident in which a bakery in Vadodara was burnt down during the 2002 Gujarat riots. Totally 14 people were murdered in this case. Early last year nine people were found guilty and sentenced to life, but another eight were acquitted.

The case of model Jessica Lal who was shot dead in April 1999 is well known to us too. Her killer Manu Sharma, the son of a rich and powerful Congress politician in Haryana, was convicted as late as December 2006 and this delay took place because of witnesses turning hostile. In fact the investigation itself was later found to be deliberately shoddy and this was what had led to Manu Sharma and those who shielded him being acquitted on in early 2006. It was only due to media pressure that the case was re-opened and justice was done. Jessica’s fate was particularly poignant as the young girl had apparently been killed because she had refused the killer a drink at a party where she was the celebrity barmaid.

The case of a law student in Delhi, Priyadarshini Mattoo, a young Kashmiri girl, is shocking. Here the accused had powerful connections. He was Santosh Kumar Singh, the son of a Police Inspector-General and that was probably why he was acquitted by a trial court three years after he had allegedly raped and murdered the 22 year old in her own home. But thankfully in this case too the court re-opened the case and found the man guilty late last year. Again, it was media pressure which forced the courts to do this. Singh has been awarded the death sentence. However, this case has not yet seen its end. His execution has been stayed by the Supreme court.

All these cases were touch and go. All of us were biting our nails in suspense, so little faith did we have in the judiciary. And the family members of the victims must have died a little every day watching the behavior of the courts and the police. Now the same thing is being repeated in the Professor Sabharwal case. So many witnesses yet not one to speak. There was talk in the media of a witness protection programme but so far no concrete system has been put in place. Without a witness protection programme, what hope do we have of preventing crucial witnesses from being either lured or frightened?

(Photo sourced from IBN)

Update 30th July 2007: There are indications that there might be an investigation into the lapses. Lets see what happens.

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Nithari serial killings – the full story

5 Comments leave one →
  1. ashima permalink
    March 6, 2007 2:08 am

    Is this because the culprits all have strong contacts and therefore able to threaten victims, witnesses and their families?
    Isn’t any protection provided to the witnesses?

    Or are all the lawyers and judges bribed and ‘in on the deal’ as well.

    It’s a shame to see these people are above the law. Its horrendous enough to murder someone let alone walking away from it scot free…a real slap in the face of the victim’s families who are already grieving.

  2. March 6, 2007 5:34 am

    Yes its their contacts and money power which allows them to threaten and bribe witnesses. In some spectacular cases protection is provided (example Zahira was provided ‘protection’)but still people got to her. She changed her testimony three times. Also the witnesses are often poor, very poor.
    Yes, judges being bribed in the lower courts is common. That is why people keep appealing and our justice system gets clogged. High courts are much cleaner.
    Its all very traumatic for families. And these several cases were brought to justice because the media took up cudgels on their behalf. Also because the victim’s families hired good lawyers. Often we never even hear of the injustices done to the poorer people.

  3. March 7, 2007 11:35 am

    They have rubbed salt on the wounds by promoting the police officer in front of whom all this happened and who is shown in the TV footage as a mute spectator, doing nothing. This is in a state governed by the party with a difference.

  4. Rajan V K permalink
    March 29, 2007 4:48 pm

    The murders of the teacher, the aspiring politicians and criminals, the ABVP activists must not be allowed to get away with this. The people of Ujjain must impart justice if our judiciary is as impotent as being unable to punish obvious murderers. Now I am ashamed that I was supporting a party that harps on RAM and acquisces the killing of a teacher by a bunch of hoodlums.The spineless police officers who are playing footmen to the criminals cum politicians must also be sacked and punished…by thge people if the law in unable to do it.

  5. Suresh permalink
    April 7, 2007 3:49 am

    If even the police men who were witnesses back out, imagine the state of security in INDIA… A serious thought of “witness protection programme” is to be brought in…

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