IN THE three years since techie Mohsin Shaikh was murdered on the outskirts of Pune, his family’s fight for justice has been set back by bail granted to 18 of the 21 accused, besides prominent lawyer Ujjwal Nikam’s sudden decision to opt out as special public prosecutor. Mohsin, who hailed from Solapur and was working as an engineer with a Pune firm, was fatally assaulted by a large group in the suburb of Hadapsar on June 2, 2014, in an atmosphere of communal tension following the circulation of certain pictures that offended right-wing groups. The police arrested 21 activists of the Hindu Rashtra Sena (HRS) for the murder.
Nikam’s decision came at a time when 17 of the 21, including a minor, were already out on bail. On Thursday, Bombay High Court granted bail to an 18th, Dada Modak, while Ravi Sathe and Sagar Sutar withdrew their bail applications. Sathe, Sutar and radical HRS leader Dhananjay Jayram Desai aka Bhai, 34, whose bail plea was rejected earlier, are the only three remaining in jail.
Nikam, who was not available for comment, had been appointed prosecutor by the state government following a request by Mohsin’s family to then Maharashtra chief minister Prithviraj Chavan. The government cancelled the appointment on May 19, following a request by Nikam. Shortly after Nikam’s appointment, Pune-based activist Anjum Inamdar of Rashtrapremi Kruti Samiti, who is now also with AIMIM, had written to Chavan opposing the appointment and alleging that Nikam is close to right-wing groups.
Desai’s advocate Sanjiv Punalekar, who is with Hindu Vidhidnya Parishad, hit back with a press release on February 9, 2017, to “condemn the communalisation of advocate Ujjawal Nikam’s appointment by the AIMIM in collusion with Congress leader Hussain Dalwai”. Punalekar cited a letter dated July 20, 2014, by Dalwai, a Rajya Sabha MP, urging Chavan not to put Nikam on the case because of his alleged right-wing links.
Punalekar refused to comment on Nikam’s latest decision. “It won’t be right for me to say anything… He is a reputable and respected lawyer,” Punalekar told The Indian Express. Mohsin’s father, Sadiq Shaikh, says he had sent Nikam a message requesting him to reconsider: “You are champion of eradicating terrorism in India. There could be various reasons for the delay in the trial… We are not blaming you for delays. Please do not consider the allegations made by others…” Sadiq said Nikam replied: “Sadiq Bhai, it is very kind of you for showing faith and confidence in me. I respect you very much and that is why I was appearing in the case… God is great. He will give justice…”
On June 16, Sadiq Shaikh wrote to Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis and the law department requesting that senior lawyer Rohini Salian be appointed special public prosecutor. The government has not yet replied to Shaikh, who sent the chief minister a reminder this week. Two years ago, Salian had alleged that a National Investigation Agency officer had asked her to go soft on right-wing Hindu activists accused in the Malegaon blast case of 2008. Asked if the government has approached her to take up this case, Salian said it hasn’t. “People have approached me. I am yet to take a decision,” she said.
The next hearing is on July 4.
Mohsin was attacked while going home with a friend, Riyaz Ahmed Mubarak Shendure, after prayers at a mosque around 9.15 pm. He died in a hospital. His younger brother Mobin Shaikh, 26, filed a complaint with Hadapsar police.
The police chargesheet in Pune’s Cantonment court cites Mobin’s statement: “As Mohsin had a beard, a skullcap and was wearing a light green Pathani shirt, they attacked him with hockey sticks and smashed a cement block on his head. Riyaz informed Mobin on the cellphone… Mobin rushed to the spot and saw his brother lying in a pool of blood. Mobin cried for help. A resident called the police control room. In some time the police reached the spot. By the time, the HRS activists had attacked another Muslim youth, Amin Harun Shaikh. In some time the police reached the spot. At that point the assailants had left their motorcycles and fled. Meanwhile, an injured Ejaz Yakub Bagwan was sitting in the police vehicle. He was also attacked by HRS men.”
The chargesheet cites statements by two witnesses on alleged discussions among the alleged HRS activists earlier that evening: “The activists were carrying hockey sticks, wooden batons etc. During the meeting they started discussing that HRS president Dhananjay Bhai has said that Muslims should be thrashed for posting derogatory pictures of Shivaji Maharaj on Facebook…”
According to the witnesses’ statements, the activists then rode on motorcycles towards Unnati Nagar, the area where Mohsin was later attacked. Defence lawyer Punalekar alleged that the accused were falsely implicated. Desai’s sister Rupali Marathe said, “There is no evidence of his involvement in murder and he is still lodged in prison.” An HRS activist said “Bhai” had not even been present on the spot.
The family’s first setback this year came on January 12 when bail was granted to three of the 21 accused. “The fact that the deceased belonged to another religion is in favour of the accused, who were provoked in the name of the religion and seem to have committed the murder,” high court justice Mridula Bhatkar ruled in an order that surprised the family. “… The transcript of the speech given by Desai was sufficient to show that he had incited feelings of religious discrimination… The accused otherwise had no other motive such as 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 accused.”
“Is a provocative speech permissible for murdering an innocent person from another religion?” said Sadiq Shaikh, who has challenged the bail order in the Supreme Court. He said he has made three demands of the government: “We demanded Rs 15 lakh as compensation but got only Rs 5 lakh. We wanted a government job for Mobin, and the case to be tried in a fast-track court,” he said. “Nothing has happened.”