Professor Sabharwal’s murder probe in trouble
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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