“Mazha nau aahe Navleen Kumar/ Unnees june unnees var/ (My name’s Navleen Kumar / Nineteenth June nineteen times) Looto dehaat kholo bazaar/Nallasopara aur Virar/ Chheeno zameen hamse hamein bhejo pataal” (Rob the villages, open markets, Nalla Sopara and Virar, Snatch our lands and send us to hell)
Musician and balladeer Rabbi Shergill remembers Navleen Kumar in the last stanza of his song ‘Jinhe naaz hain hind par woh kahan hain’ (where are those who are proud of India), which deals with those who have pursued justice and have in returned been failed by the system. Navleen’s case is arguably one of the first cases of public outrage in the Mumbai Metropolitan Region following the death of an activist. After Navleen was brutally stabbed 19 times at her residence in 2002 for taking on land mafia, there was outrage amongst activists and civil society, who demanded swift action. However, for all the outrage back then, in 14 years the trial in the case has not been completed.
On June 19, 2002, Navleen (56), who spent more than a decade protecting and restoring the land belonging to Adivasis (indigenous peoples) in the Thane district through legal interventions, was stabbed 19 times by two assailants when she went for her daily morning walk on the terrace. While the state CID was asked to probe the matter, the Mumbai police crime branch solved the case after nearly seven months.
Mahesh Desai, then an assistant police inspector with the Mumbai crime branch, was informed by one of his informers about a person who after having a drink too many confessed to murdering the activist. After verifying the information, Desai picked up Sameer Ansari who allegedly confessed to the crime and also named the other person involved in the murder. “To be sure that he was indeed involved in the murder we asked him about some details like the colour of the dress Kumar was wearing when she was murdered. It was only after we were convinced, that the duo was handed over to the CID who was investigating the matter,” Desai, currently a senior inspector, told The Indian Express.
Investigators also believe an alleged gangster behind bars hatched the conspiracy and paid Rs 25 lakh for the contract killing. An officer who probed the case said that gangs in the area would illegally occupy land belonging to native people and start illegal constructions. “Navleen had petitioned several courts against these land sharks because of which they had to hand over the land to the actual owners in some cases. As the land sharks realized that Navleen could cause more damage, they decided to eliminate her,” the officer said.
After investigating the case, the CID filed a chargesheet in the matter and the case is still going on in the Thane sessions court. A family member who did not want to be named said, “It has been nearly 14 years since the murder, but the case still remains at the trial stage in the lower court. The accused have made applications to the High court and the Supreme court resulting in delays to the trial.”
As per Thane court records, since March 9, 2009, the case has been called out 82 times and the case has been transferred to another court at least once. The trial, however, is at the framing of charges stage — one of the first stages of trial. The family members have realized that “deciding to move on” is a much saner option. “It took us years to accept that she was no more. But then I realized that one has to take care of oneself. The road to justice is a long one. Even in the case of the RTI activist in Vakola who was killed, the accused will be granted bail soon and then eyewitnesses will start disappearing,” the family member fears.
Navleen, whose husband Murali Kumar, an investigative journalist, passed away years before her murder, is survived by a son and daughter. The family member said it was her passion that led her to continue to seek justice in the face of threats. He asked, “However, for all she did, the question that begs an answer is: does anyone remember Navleen Kumar?”