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THE CITIZEN BUREAU | 17 JANUARY, 2017

Secular India Aghast: Murder Provoked By Religion Justifed


NEW DELHI: “The fault of the deceased was only that he belonged to another religion. I consider this factor in favour of the applicants/accused. Moreover, the applicants/accused do not have criminal record and it appears that in the name of the religion, they were provoked and have committed the murder."

This was the verdict of the Bombay High Court that granted bail to three men accused of bludgeoning to death a techie Mohsin Shaikh in Pune while he was returning home after prayers that has sent shock waves through democratic, secular India. There is a deep sense of dismay, with Shaikhs family devastated.

Shaikh was targeted by a mob because he visibly appeared to be a Muslim, wearing a Pathan suit and sporting a beard. He was killed on June 2, 2014,

The case made out by the prosecution was clear cut. That the accused were part of a rally in Pune organised by the Hindu Rashtra Sena, where its leader Dhananjay Desai had made an inflammatory speech against Muslims. When the accused saw Shaikh and his relative they pounced on them beating them with hockey sticks. Shaikh died, his cousin escaped in an incident that was seen as a major attack on the secular fabric of India, and invited condemnation across.

On January 12, 2017 the secular foundation of the Constitution was struck another blow with the High Court order granting bail to the three with, "Perused the FIR, the statements of the witnesses, the injury certificates and the postmortem reports. From the record and the statements of the witnesses, it is apparent that the applicants/accused were present at the time of the incident.

There are statements of the witnesses and the police officer that the applicants/accused had attended a meeting of Hindu Rashtra Sena on the same day half an hour before the actual incident of the assault.

I have perused the order passed by this Court on 5 March 2015 while rejecting the bail application of one Dhananjay Desai, the co-accused in Criminal Bail Application No 2337 of 2014. It shows that the co-accused Dhananjay Desai was the one who was the speaker in the meeting and he instigated the audience.

It is observed that in the said order of this court that the transcript of the speech given by Dhanjay Desai was sufficient to show that he incited the feeling of the religious discrimination. The meeting was held half an hour prior the incident of assault.

The applicants/accused otherwise had no other motive such as any personal enmity against the innocent deceased Mohsin. The fault of the deceased was only that he belonged to another religion.

I consider this factor in favour of the applicants/accused. Moreover, the applicants/accused do not have criminal record and it appears that in the name of the religion, they were provoked and have committed the murder."

The Citizen spoke to lawyers who said that the bail order seemed to blame the victim for being of another religion, and hence provoking the accused, because of which they had to commit the murder. This ruling, the lawyers said, was pushing the argument that murder based on religion was justified, and that religion itself can be taken by the courts to be a provocation inciting such violence. And that the accused carrying sticks and stones to assault and kill an innocent passer by could thus be excused, as they were responding adversely to his religion. As a senior lawyer who did not want to be quoted here said, “this is astounding.”

The Muslim community in Maharashtra is particularly insecure, as the signal being sent out by the ruling is that violence on the basis of religion is acceptable. And that a mob attacking and killing those of another religion can do so with impunity.

It might be recalled that Mohsin Shaikh, 28, was the eldest of five siblings and had moved to Pune from Solapur to work. He was beaten to death by a mob of at least 14 persons according to eyewitnesses at the time, with the figure being reduced to just three arrests subsequently. Shaikh was the only earning member of his family, and had aspirations that were never realised because of the sudden attack that killed him. His brother at the time said that just when their ageing father had closed shop, he would have to re-start his STD booth to try and make ends meet. His brother admitted that the family felt insecure in Solapur but could never imagine that this would happen in Pune that was seen as a more liberal and quiet city.

The court ruling has struck new fear in the minorities in Maharashtra. Shaikhs family has gone quiet after the ruling, and according to sources, are terrified out of their wits. More so as the men accused of killing Shaikh will now be out on bail.

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