In August 2006, a professor in a town in India was beaten up badly. He died. TV footage clearly showed who the attackers were (ABVP and BJP activitists). The college principal and a few other college officials were witnesses. Later, in the court case, the witnesses retract their earlier testimonies identifying these attackers. The TV footage record disappears from the TV channel's office. The chief minister visits the attacker but not the victim's wife. The high court judge acts lenient on the case and acquits the attackers.
More on the sordid details of this shocking case can be read in this newsreport. I also reproduce below the entire newsreport:
No One Killed The Professor
Despite dozens of eyewitnesses and incriminating TV footage of the brutal assault, those accused of killing HS Sabharwal have walked free. DIVYA GUPTA reports
|Resolute Prem has vowed to appeal against the acquittal of her husband’s alleged killers |
Photos: SHAILENDRA PANDEY
|Photo: NOMESH DUBEY|
KOMAL SINGH Sengar, 46, wears the look of a haunted man as he stands atop a mount of dirt and pebbles in a corner of Madhav College, Ujjain. His clothes hang on his emaciated frame. After we exchange telephone numbers in low tones, I tell him it’s important for us to talk. He says, “College mein baat nahin karunga. Saadhe panch baje ke baad. (I won’t talk in the college. After 5:30pm.)” A few hours later, a local police inspector calls me. Sengar has filed a complaint claiming I threatened him and his family with “dire consequences” if he didn’t give me a “favourable” interview.
Sengar is well known in Ujjain. You don’t need an address to find him. Ask an autorickshaw driver or a shopkeeper or a random passerby, and they’ll point you in his direction. Sengar lives with his family in an 800sq-ft house in Alkapuri, a middle- income residential neighborhood. Until six months ago, they lived in a smaller, rented house in the low-income urban sprawl of Desai Nagar. His new house cost him Rs 5 lakh.
“The poor guy had trouble getting a bank loan as nobody was ready to give it,” says Anand Mangal, from whom Sengar bought the house. “He got a private loan, but I don’t know where he got that, whether he sold land or from relatives or elsewhere.”
Sengar’s dubious fame dates back to a single moment nearly three years ago, on a fateful Saturday, when he found himself in the wrong place at the wrong time, with his trusted friend and guru, Prof HS Sabharwal. That day, Sabharwal paid with his life and Sengar, perhaps, with his soul.
|VANISHING ACT The ABVP activists ran into Prof HS Sabharwal on campus, brutally beat him up and then ran away. Scenes of the assault were shown live on TV|
On Saturday, August 26, 2006, the entire sacred Hindu town of Ujjain seemed to have descended outside Madhav College’s rusted iron gate named Gaurav Dwar. The place resembled a mini battleground with hundreds of police personnel outside the college, along with cavalry, teargas squads, police videographers and photographers. Ujjain’s print and TV journalists were present, too. Simultaneously, hundreds of white kurta-clad Congress workers milled around agitating as part of a jail bharo andolan.
The 120-year-old Madhav College, alma mater of celebrated Hindi poet Shiv Mangal Singh Suman, is reputed to be a fertile breeding ground for future MLAs and MPs. In 2006, the atmosphere there in the lead up to the student union elections was unusually charged. The Congress-affiliated NSUI had won the elections through most of the past decade. In 2003, after the BJP routed the Congress in the Madhya Pradesh Assembly elections, the BJP’s student wing, the ABVP’S political prospects at Madhav College received a shot in the arm too. The BJPled state government announced a new election format. The NSUI, opposed the new format, alleging it would favour the ABVP.
Amidst immense confusion, the college principal LN Verma called a faculty meeting that day and an unanimous decision was taken to cancel the elections. Then, Verma did something puzzling, which later also proved fatal. He had two notices put up in quick succession – one stating that the elections were on, and another saying they had been cancelled.
Predictably, all hell broke loose at the college. First, the NSUI vandalised the principal’s office. A little later, ABVP activists threatened and abused faculty members and smeared mud on a professor’s face. As these assaulters turned back, they ran into Prof HS Sabharwal on the campus and brutally beat him up. Scenes of the assault were broadcast live on TV.
A few minutes later, at 2:06pm, Sabharwal was pronounced dead. The postmortem report said broken ribs and bleeding lungs had stopped the flow of oxygen to his brain, leading to his death.
A creature of habit and routine, Prof HS Sabharwal, head of the college’s political science department, normally drove to work in his car. But on that Saturday, he went by scooter to college. Sabharwal planned on returning home quickly for lunch with his wife, Prem. “He didn’t like leaving me for even two minutes,” Prem reminisces, smiling shyly. “After marriage, when I came to live in Ujjain from Delhi, he preferred that I didn’t work. Even though it was a small town, we had a golden life together.”
Years ago, as a student at Madhav College, Sabharwal had been reputed as a deft hockey player and an excellent orator. Ironically, he had also been the president of the ABVP. At 5 feet 11 inches tall, Sabharwal cut a strong but pleasant figure with a “jolly nature”, as his family and students remember him. “Prof Sabharwal treated the students as his friends,” says LLB student and NSUI leader Rajesh Bathli. “He loved mixing with and spending time with the students.” Sabharwal’s son Himanshu recalls a candid conversation with his father in which the professor freely admitted that teachers rarely took classes, saying, “Why should we suffer the students’ abuses?” Perhaps, in quieter moments, Sabharwal may have also wondered about other critical issues – the politicisation of university campuses beyond recognition; the power play of the political parties in universities and colleges — the first building blocks of their future cadres — which has eroded the sanctity of education and the culture and purpose of learning; the political interference that forces teachers to toe the line of political parties in power.
SABHARWAL DIED WITHIN three to four minutes after the assault on him by ABVP activists. Why and on whose orders were they let inside the college when it had already been ordered closed?
Faculty meeting called by college principal to take a final decision on the holding of elections begins. It arrives at a unanimous decision to cancel elections
10AM – 10:15AM
In a puzzling move, principal issues two notices. First, that elections will take place and then, minutes later, another one that elections are cancelled
11 – 11:30AM
NSUI activists pour into the college campus. They vandalise the principal’s office. Within 15 minutes, they are caned out of the premises by the police
The Principal closes the college and orders a lockdown of both its gates. Faculty, college staff and policemen on duty remain inside the college
12:30 – 12:45PM
CSP Manoj Singh escorts into the college a group of 25-30 ABVP activists and BJP corporators, who threaten, abuse and smear mud on faculty members
1:45 – 1:50PM
The group of ABVP activists and BJP corporators meet Prof Sabharwal on their way out of the college. They assault and beat him up and run away
Prof Sabharwal breathes his last. He is escorted by Komal Singh Sengar and others to the hospital, where he is pronounced dead on arrival
But Sabharwal wasn’t known to be shy of words or as someone easily intimidated by unruly students, says Himanshu. “Fear was far away from him.”
The trial of such a public killing should have been an open and shut case. But the most incriminating evidence — footage shot by Ujjain’s local TV news cameramen as well as the police videographers and photographers, which showed the ABVP activists attacking Sabharwal — vanished mysteriously. The police named 69 eyewitnesses. But these did not include many professors or police officers, including Manoj Singh, YP Singh and K Runwal. Sabharwal’s son Himanshu claims that Principal Verma confirmed to him that three local BJP corporators — Sonu Gehlot, Satyanarayan Chauhan and Mohan Yadav — were in the group that assaulted his father. But the investigating agency, the state CID, did not record their statements. A crucial forensic examination was sent to BJP-ruled Gujarat, after the Supreme Court transferred the case to Nagpur so the trial could happen in a “non-BJP led state.”
|FATAL LOOPHOLE The statements of all 69 witnesses in Sabharwal’s murder case were recorded by the CID – evidence not admissible in court. Why did the police not record these statements before a magistrate?|
On his part, Principal Verma left the task of reporting the professor’s killing to the college peon, Sengar, and sports coach, Manohar Dodiya. This made both Sengar and Dodiya the prime witnesses on whose testimony the prosecution’s case rested. Both later turned hostile, leading to the acquittal of those accused of the killing. Dodiya told TEHELKA that the FIR for Sabharwal’s killing was lodged “several hours” after the attack. The FIR does not record the time it was registered, which is a mandatory requirement. Further, the statements of all 69 eyewitnesses were recorded by the CID, which rendered these accounts inadmissible as evidence. But why did the police not record these statements before a magistrate? Sabharwal’s son Himanshu claims he handed a crucial piece of evidence to the then Superintendent of Police, Jaideep Prasad, and the investigating officer, BK Vyas. This was a CD that an ABVP activist named Sanwar Patel gave to Himanshu. The CD, says Himanshu, showed the accused ABVP activists and the BJP corporators assaulting Sabharwal. The SP and the investigating officer failed to pass on the CD to the prosecution. Regrettably, Himanshu did not keep a copy of the CD. “I gave the footage to police officers investigating the case,” says Himanshu. “I trusted them at the time.”
The national spotlight was on. Media pressure had built up. A man was beaten to death in broad daylight before hundreds of eyewitnesses and dozens of video cameras. The opposition in the state was waiting in the wings, ready to pounce. Someone had to pay the price, at least for a while. Six ABVP workers — Shashiranjan Akela, Vimal Tomar, Hemant Dubey, Panjak Mishra and Sudhir Yadav — were arrested on charges of murder and rioting.
Things didn’t work out in Ujjain for Sabharwal’s family and they realised they wouldn’t get a fair trial. They petitioned the Supreme Court to transfer the case to a “non-BJP led state”. The request was granted after 18 months. Nagpur became the new venue for seeking justice. The trial at Nagpur began in March 2008. On July 13, 2009, the judge acquitted all the six persons accused of Sabharwal’s murder.
The judge sought cover in the finer points of law to soften the blow. Though they may have been guilty, he said, “justice could not be done to Sabharwal” as the prosecution “failed miserably” to prove the case against the accused. The accused afforded a defense team of some of the country’s most highly paid lawyers, hired to create “reasonable doubt” to use legal parlance, to get them off the hook. The prosecution lawyer, Pratul Shandilya, on the other hand, faced difficulties right from the start. The investigating agencies were slow and selective in forwarding crucial documents to him. The government proved tardy in clearing the payment of his fees . But the most difficult part for him was proving to the court that the statements of the witnesses recorded before the investigating agencies were indeed true. “All the key witnesses turned hostile,” says Shandilya unhappily.
|SELECTIVE COMPASSION CM Shivraj Singh Chouhan met accused ABVP activist Vimal Tomar at the hospital soon after Sabharwal’s killing. But he has not met the professor’s widow even once in three years to offer condolences|
The supporters of the accused broke into street celebrations. Elsewhere, the slain professor’s widow cried some more, and their son believed a lot less. “Nobody was willing to come forward and say what really happened,” says Himanshu. “The truth is that my father was killed inside the college. The only people who were inside at that point were the ABVP activists group, the professors, the principal, the policemen on duty, Dodiya and Sengar.”
“I had accorded him the status of God after the killing, but I think he was pressured a lot,” said Prem Sabharwal of Sengar, who, before turning hostile, had given a signed affidavit to Himanshu and an interview to TV news channel, NDTV, in which he named all the accused.The court didn’t consider the evidence relevant.
Upon being released from prison after their acquittal, the six ABVP activists went into hiding. “After the unfair media campaign against these innocent men, we don’t trust the media anymore,” ABVP leader Vishnudutt Sharma told TEHELKA.
A secondary schoolteacher in Ujjain, Shashi Ranjan Akela was one of the main accused. When we called his home, his father said Akela had gone away to “offer prayers”. Vishal Rajoria, whose father is a police officer, wasn’t home as well. His sister said it had been a tough three years for the family. Pankaj Mishra, who lives in the Police Officer’s Colony near Ujjain’s Mahakala temple was not at home either. Said his mother: “Woh to hamesha apne ABVP doston ke saath hi gaayab rehta hai. (He always seems to disappear with his ABVP friends.)”
Soon after Sabharwal’s brutal killing, Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan met ABVP activist, Vimal Tomar, one of the main accused, at a hospital in the city of Indore. But he has never called on Sabharwal’s widow to offer condolences. Chouhan’s first reaction to Sabharwal’s killing was to call it an “incident”. In three years, his police failed to catch the killers who beat a man to death before dozens of eyewitnesses, watched by millions on national TV.
Clearly, those lower down in the Darwinian social pecking order have become scapegoats in a case, which, in reality, was dead on arrival at the court. It was systematically stripped of all crucial evidence by the state security machinery and investigating agency prior to the start of the trial, with direct support from the chief minister and the ruling dispensation. The road to justice for HS Sabharwal has arrived at a crossing. If we head in one direction, then ours is not the world’s biggest banana republic. If we head the other way, ours is not the world’s biggest democracy.