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Professor case in sabotage rut

Bhopal, July 14: The acquittal of six ABVP students accused of beating Madhya Pradesh professor H.S. Sabharwal to death three years ago is the culmination of a three-year process that was dubbed a “joke” by his family.

A sessions court in Nagpur yesterday acquitted the six persons affiliated to the BJP’s student wing for want of evidence. The case had been shifted to Nagpur from Ujjain, where Sabharwal was killed on August 26, 2006, by the Supreme Court after the professor’s family expressed doubts regarding a fair trial in BJP-ruled Madhya Pradesh.

Chief minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan, who had dubbed the death a “hadsa (accident)”, said the verdict had vindicated his earlier stand.

Chauhan, however, did not comment on whether his government would move the higher court against the judgement.

Neither did he appear keen to find out how a life was lost in the presence of a crowd of over 150 people, among who were a large number of teachers, government functionaries and policemen.

The tardy approach of the government has been the hallmark of the investigations from the beginning.

Hours after Sabharwal, a political science teacher at the state-run Madhav College in Ujjain, was beaten to death for cancelling campus polls, word spread that the professor had died of “cardiac arrest”. The post-mortem report suggested that Sabharwal had died of injuries.

When the trial began in Ujjain, crucial pieces of evidence were ignored. The professor was killed in full public glare during students’ union elections, but almost all witnesses, including policemen, turned hostile.

Some others were rewarded. Manoj Singh, the then city superintendent of police who was accused of not trying to save the professor, was promoted as additional superintendent of Indore.

Four constables — Inder Vikram Singh, Dhara Singh, Sukhnandan and Dilip Tripathi — who had earlier told the CID they had seen the ABVP leaders attack Sabharwal, recanted. No departmental action was initiated, nor did the trial court declare them hostile. “Had they been declared hostile, they would have lost their jobs,” said Himanshu Sabharwal, son of the slain professor.

Several others changed statements. Key witnesses Komal Singh Senger, Manohar Singh Dondia and Nawal Kishore, all peons at the college, had earlier told the CID they saw ABVP leaders Sudhir Yadav, Hemant Dubey, Pankaj Mishra, Vishal Rajoria, Vimal Tomar and Shashi Ranjan attack the professor. However, in February 2007 they all said they didn’t recognise any of these men.

Sabharwal’s students went the same way.

In a letter to the chief minister, Himanshu had given a list of various incidents that he believed were aimed at weakening the trial. While Chauhan did not respond, the bad blood between Sabharwal’s family and the BJP intensified.

A state minister, Kailash Vijayvargiya, accused the professor’s son of “blackmail”, producing a letter purportedly written by Himanshu that “demanded Rs 25 lakh as compensation”.

The case suffered a severe jolt in mid-2007 when M.L. Nath, a key witness and colleague of Sabharwal, got exemption from deposing on the ground that his statement would be similar to the ones made by other teachers of Madhav College.

Nath, who taught English, was subsequently promoted and made principal of a government-run college in Jhabua district.

Nath later remarked that he had himself been beaten up by students on that fateful day. “I was in hospital so I could not have seen those attacking professor Sabharwal,” was Nath’s explanation.

Himanshu was so fed up with the prosecution that he had dubbed it a “joke”. “The prosecution even asked me to give proof that I am professor Sabharwal’s son. It’s a joke going on in the name of trial,” he had said.

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