Dr Narendra Dabholkar, the eminent rationalist who spearheaded the Maharashtra Andhashraddha Nirmulan Samiti -- an anti-superstition and anti-black magic movement in the state -- was shot dead by two unidentified assailants when he was on his morning walk at Omkareshwar bridge near Balgandharva auditorium yesterday morning.
Cops say two assailants, who arrived at the spot on a bike, fired four bullets, two of which hit the activist in the head, killing him on the spot. Dabholkar, who was also editor of Sadhana magazine -- devoted to proliferation of progressive thought -- was declared dead on arrival at Sassoon Hospital.
Shockingly, the incident took place a stone’s throw from the two police chowkies in Shaniwar Peth, situated on either ends of the bridge. When the incident took place, a police nakabandi was in place about 100 metres from the crime scene. As per the information given by the police, around 7.15 am Dabholkar was taking a walk and was headed towards Balgandharva auditorium on the footpath of the Omkareshwar Bridge. “At this time two unidentified assailants came on a bike from the auditorium side, went till the end of the bridge, parked the bike, walked back and, from a close range, fired four rounds at Dabholkar, two of which hit him in the head,” said joint commissioner of police Sanjeevkumar Singhal.
He said that following this the assailants ran towards their bike, and drove it towards Shaniwar Peth, managing to escape. Witnesses told the police that one of the shooters was wearing a white cap and the other one was carrying a bag. They were between 25 and 30 years of age. Singhal said that on Monday night Dr Dabholkar had arrived from Mumbai and was staying at a flat owned by the Sadhana trust. “His colleagues in Sadhana say he usually came to Pune on Monday and Tuesday for official work. He had left the Shaniwar Peth flat for a morning walk when he was shot dead,” said Singhal.
The officer added that the police team at the nakabandi reached the spot after hearing the commotion of the people and found Dabholkar in a pool of blood. He was taken to Sassoon Hospital. Cops found a passport size photograph of the victim, a couple of cheques of Rs 5,000 each, and two bus tickets from his pocket. As per some witnesses, the bike the assailants rode was a Hero Splendor, and the last four digits on the licence plate were 7756.
“Since he was fighting against black magic and superstition, and demanding the passage of the anti-superstition and black magic law in the state, there was tremendous dissent against him and his movement from some religious groups. It is possible that someone from one of these outfits is behind this horrific act. We are not ruling out anybody and members of these organisations have been interrogated. However, it is premature to blame anyone,” Singhal said.
He added that eight teams have been assigned specific tasks to investigate the case. The officer also maintained that a squad has been assigned to check CCTV footage from some commercial establishments in the area. “Till now we have not received any suspicious image or movement in the video recordings we have checked from some outlets. However, officials are trying to locate more images,” he said. Inspector Sushma Chavan from the cyber crime cell said that they have received information that some Google images of Dabholkar have been defaced, possibly by an extremist organisation opposed to the activist’s modern stance. “We have started investigating and have summoned the people from that particular outfit,” she told MiD DAY.
As per some witnesses, the bike the assailants rode was a Hero Splendor, and the last four digits on the licence plate were 7756.
Failure of police?
When the incident took place, a police nakabandi was imposed at the circle near Cosmos Bank to curb chain snatching, about 150-200 metres from the spot. The complainant in this case, sub-inspector Navnath Rangat of Vishrambaug police station, who was at the nakabandi, rushed to the spot along with his personnel and reported the matter. Sources say as it was early in the morning, the nakabandi was not at its full strength and only three to four policemen were present. Refuting claims that this was a failure of the department, joint commissioner of police Sanjeevkumar Singhal said that the cops were present at the nakabandi rushed to the scene the moment they heard a commotion, and alerted the police control room immediately. This was a pre-mediated act, as the assailants likely studied Dr Dabholkar's movements earlier and knew that he used to come out on particular days for his morning walks.