Justice still eludes Pune teen who was burnt to death for ‘being a Hindu’

In January last year, a gruesome murder case of a 16-year-old Pune boy being burnt alive had come to light. Sawan Rathore, a teenager hailing from Dalit community and working as a ragpicker, was set on fire on January 13, 2016 by three men reportedly who accused Sawan of stealing vehicle batteries.

Sawan died in hospital two days later, and that triggered anger and a demand for punishing the accused. Sawan’s father claimed that his son was burnt alive after the three accused – Ibrahim Mehboob Shaikh, Zuber Tamboli, and Imran Tamboli – asked if he was a Hindu.

However, the police dismissed the ‘communal angle’ and refused to treat this gruesome murder as a hate crime. They maintained that Sawan was murdered because the accused suspected him of committing theft.

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To support the claim of Sawan’s father, local activists and advocate Ramesh Rathore produced a video that was no less than a dying declaration by Sawan. The video (embedded below; viewer’s discretion advised) was recorded when Sawan was battling his fatal injuries in the hospital:

In the video, Sawan is seen confirming that the three men had inquired about his religion. They also forced him to drink some oil before pouring petrol on him and setting him on fire.

The video was recorded by advocate Rathore who has been leading the fight for justice in this case. Allegedly the Pune police refused to treat the video as dying declaration, most probably since no policeman was present at the time when the video was being recorded. Advocate Rathore claims that he called a PSI to be present, but he refused to come saying an FIR had already been registered in the case.

The anger over the incident grew after this video was shared on social media. Local right-wing groups like Samast Hindu Aghadi, Dalit group like Banjara Kranti Dal, and political parties like Shiv Sena demanded that the accused be arrested and the incident be treated as a hate crime and communal incident.

Other activists suggested that the police should not rule out even terrorism angle as this cruel and inhuman act resembled Islamic State’s modus operandi. They demanded ATS investigation in this matter to check if the accused were under influence of Islamic State’s videos that urge Muslims to kill Kafirs.

While the three accused were arrested and murder charges were slapped on them, advocate Ramesh Rathore claims that till date the crime has not been treated as a communal incident by the police.

This reporter met advocate Rathore who shared the details of the case:

Advocate Ramesh Rathore
Advocate Ramesh Rathore

On July 30 last year, the Sessions Court and High Court rejected bail pleas filed by two of the three accused – Ibrahim Mehmood Shaikh and Imran Tamboli. Third accused, Zuber Tamboli did not file any bail application. He was arrested earlier too as an accused in another murder case.

Rathore stressed on the point that the courts focused on all the evidence as well as the boy’s dying declaration video (as per Supreme Court guidelines, anyone can record a dying declaration and presence of police is not necessary). All the three accused were arrested under sections 201 and 302 of the IPC.

“It’s unfortunate that police did not apply section 295A, 120B, and other relevant IPC sections that were applicable due to the use of petrol and oil in the case and because the accused asked about religion of the victim,” he said.

He also expressed his displeasure with local as well as state administration for not giving any compensation to the victim’s family even after around a year has passed since the incident.

“The collector had promised to issue financial aid to Sawan’s family. But, nothing has been done yet. If the victim would have been from the Muslim community, the administration would have issued the cheque within one month. News channels would have competed furiously to give maximum footage to the case, but this case remains ignored,” said the senior advocate.

What is adding insult to the injury is the police filing cases against those who organised a protest rally on January 27 last year to demand justice in this case.

“Rally was organised to demand justice and compensation from the administration. Instead of assuring justice, they have filed unlawful assembly and other cases against the organisers. Cases were filed against Punjab Police SP Jagirsing Bartiya (he participated in the protest), Samastha Hindu Agadhi Chief Milind Ekbote, and Banjara Kranti Dal members. This is very unfortunate, they must remember that the constitution has given everyone the right to protest peacefully,” said Rathore.

He further said that activists are closely following this case till the boy’s soul gets justice and will soon write to the CMO and to the PMO to get compensation for the victim’s family. He has urged the state Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis to look into this case.


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