So who murdered the Prof?
And why is the BJP in Madhya Pradesh celebrating the acquittal of the murder accused?
Rakhi Chakrabarty Delhi
Many saw Professor HS Sabharwal being beaten to death in a public space. And yet, there were no witnesses. That's the blatant irony.
Three years after the teacher in Madhav College at Ujjain in BJP-ruled Madhya Pradesh (MP) was killed by students in the college premises, the Sabharwal family still waits for justice. Those accused of murdering him - members of ABVP, BJP's students' wing - walked out free.
The case was transferred to Nagpur in Maharashtra after Himanshu Sabharwal, the professor's son, petitioned the Supreme Court that justice might be denied in MP. Now, yet again, he is determined to fight it out. He plans to appeal to the Supreme Court. "We haven't got a copy of the judgement yet. The delay looks fishy,"
The fight for justice is gathering momentum in the cyber world, too. A Facebook group called 'Peace Protest for Justice for Professor Sabharwal' is leading the campaign. More than 4,000 people have already signed up for it. Their slogan: Pehle Mattoo, Katara, Jessica Lal, Ab nyay ke liye Professor Sabharwal. Halla Bol! (First Priyadarshini Mattoo, Nitish Katara, Jessica Lal, now justice for Prof Sabharwal.)
The professor's widow, Prem Sabharwal, is a retired employee of the telephone department. She still stays in Ujjain. Himanshu, a filmmaker, lives in Gurgaon. After the verdict on July 14, when he went to Ujjain, he was threatened. Speaking to Hardnews, he said, "A few days ago, I was in Ujjain. As soon as I finished an interview on an English TV channel, they gheraoed me, threatening and hurling abuses at me. I retaliated."
Himanshu lodged a complaint with the police. Those who harassed him filed a counter-complaint accusing him of threatening them.
In August 2006, Prof Sabharwal, head of political science department, was allegedly attacked by ABVP students, when he cancelled the election to the students' union due to irregularities. He was supervising the election. The autopsy report confirmed that he had two broken ribs and bleeding lungs which caused his death. Apparently, the police had said initially that he died of cardiac arrest. The BJP-led state government seemed to be tacitly aligned with the accused.
Witnesses turned hostile, they retracted their statements. So, in effect, nobody really saw the professor being beaten to death even though the incident happened in the presence of TV cameras. Video footage of the killing was available. The killers were visible raining blows on the professor. Then, it seemed a straight case and that it wouldn't be difficult to identify the guilty and bring them to justice. But the footage that could help in indicting the guilty was allegedly edited out from the CD before presenting it to court.
Sixty nine witnesses were examined in the court. The lawyer of ABVP members told the media that the prosecution had failed to establish that the accused were at the site of the incident. It's amazing: MP police did not find a shred of evidence against the killers although it had happened in front of a crowd.
The professor's family had feared that they wouldn't get justice in BJP-ruled MP. Witnesses were threatened into withdrawing their statements. After the incident, a peon of the college had said that ABVP chief of MP, Shashi Ranjan Akela, had incited the killers while speaking to the media. Soon after, he had complained of calls threatening him to retract his statement. And, he did precisely that. In the trial court at Ujjain, he said that Akela was not present at the spot.
The fear of incurring the wrath of the establishment has forced witnesses to clam up. BJP is a cadre-based party. Such organisations, when in power, infiltrate every institution they govern. Their control over state machinery is absolute and they tolerate no protest - an example of a totalitarian regime.
Even the professor's colleagues didn't come out to testify against his killers. "My father's colleagues haven't kept in touch with us. Principal of the college, LN Verma, even refused to speak to journalists after the court verdict. Initially, they had given a joint memorandum," said Himanshu.
Around 90 teachers of the college had signed the statement. They withdrew when the police recorded their statement.
In spite of public outrage at the acquittal of the guilty due to lack of evidence provided by the MP police, Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan hailed the verdict as victory of truth. His colleagues in the BJP and ABVP members openly celebrated the acquittal widely perceived all over the country as a clear case of "daylight murder in a public space".
The first protest against the acquittal was held on July 26, 2009 at Delhi's India Gate. The Sabharwal family appealed to all Indian citizens to support their cause. The campaign is gaining strength. "Support of every Indian counts," says the Facebook group. "Every Indian must fight for justice. Book the killers, however powerful they might be."
On July 23 evening, Himanshu went with an aide and some friends to the Delhi University to put up posters seeking support for the event at India Gate. Late that night, his aide, Parminder Singh, was found dead near Khalsa College at North Campus. He had been stabbed to death. Though police say personal enmity could be the reason behind the murder, but niggling doubts cloud the incident. Why would anybody kill him for putting up posters, wondered Himanshu. The mystery deepens.