By Prof. Narendra Nayak
Mangaluru, Oct 16, 2021: As a concerned citizen of Mangalore, I have been noting with a deep sense of regret the increasing criminalisation of public life. The recent event of an intended murder of two workmen who were demanding their rightful dues resulting in a tragedy in which a father murders his own son made me introspect and investigate this issue. The plot thickens when one learns that the authorities have been turning a blind eye to such incidents happening under their very noses. Inquiries with the nearby people reveal many such instances and the people in fear of the political contacts of the murder accused are still afraid to come out into the open.
A murder and a ‘would-have-been’ murder!
On 5th of October, 2021 Mangaloreans were treated to a video (though on a few channels) to an altercation between two workers and a person behind a counter followed by their going out of the premises only to be beaten up by a young man who was followed by another older person brandishing a firearm and later on the body of the younger person being taken away in a car. The incident was at Vaishnavi Express Cargo private limited at Morgan gate, Mangalore at around 3.30 pm.
Going into FIR no.140/20-21 of the Mangalore South police station in a statement made by the manager of the company whose name is Mohan Kumar shows the following: mainly that is two workers had been sent by the above man who had brandished and shot a firearm for a trip to Mumbai as driver and conductor. They had wages pending and had come to the office demanding that they be paid. When they asked the wife of the owner, she called her husband and son and in the resulting sequence of events the son was shot by the father. The FIR also states that the shot/s which was fired at Ashraf and Chandrahas, the driver and conductor accidentally hit the boy and entered through his left eye.
While some of media tried to project a concocted version of the incident stating that the driver had snatched the gun from the pocket of the accused and tried to fire the weapon, the FIR has stated otherwise. Later on the issue was tried to be soft pedaled by a number of people including the media projecting it as an ‘accidental shooting’! Again, the same report states that the police are looking for the absconding duo naming Ashraf and Chandrahas, the transport workers who had demanded their rightful wages! While they are nowhere mentioned as accused in the FIR one wonders as to how the witnesses are to be called as ‘absconders’! These reports indicate the direction that the investigation was supposed to take! However, the FIR was made and submitted to court adhering to a true narration of the incident! That such manipulations could happen was foreseen by some pro-worker, progressive organizations! Soon after the incident Santosh Bajal the district secretary of DYFI had sent out a press note with apprehensions that manipulations could be done to make the workers as accused in the incident. As soon as his statements appeared in the media he was called by some underground elements and told not to get involved!
As a citizen of Mangalore having been born and brought up here for seven decades I found it revolting that in this city in broad daylight a man brandishes a firearm, (licensed or not) in a crowded locality, shoots to kill someone/s and instead of the intended target/s shoots his own progeny. The sixteen-year old had been on the spot and in the video is seen beating up the driver. That the shot was fired at unarmed people and with the intention to cause grievous bodily harm and that this individual has the sympathy or in collaboration with a section of the police and media is beyond question. However, it is well known to the area, though none are willing to go on record that this accused Rajesh Prabhu has been in close contact with many of the police force. He had been treating them to his ‘hospitality’ and under this obligation they have been showing a soft corner for him. He had been even provided with an armed guard after payment which had been subsequently withdrawn as it had been proven that his so called ‘security threats’ were all concocted. Now the latest news is that after the police custody, the accused has been handed over to judicial custody after the cremation of the victim. In the period between the pronounced death and the period of brain death a drama of organ donation was also played to win public sympathy. However this fell through as the board for such, refused to follow his conditions that the donation could be made only to someone specified by him and the names of the donees be approved by him. The ethics for organ donation do not permit any such disclosures and hence the drama of organ donation could not be played out.
Subsequent investigations have shown that a number of other employees had not been paid wages and subjected to violence too when they became too vocal in demanding them. The picture of the premises shows a closed godown constructed in an open space which is a part of a play ground and that too is a matter of question as to how such a construction was allowed on a public space, that too behind an allegedly religious structure. The enclosed photographs show how the structure has been put up on an open space which according to the residents of the flat is a kumki plot and according to rules nothing can be done there except agricultural activity.
If the use of that land particularly for commercial purposes has been permitted by the authorities turning a blind eye to it, the same has to be investigated. Adding to the tragedy, there exists a superstitious angle too! According to some information received from a devout one is that the accused had bragged to a priest that he had an arms license with weapon and could shoot if needed. The priest had replied that god would take care of that. The other is that he had brought some object of worship from Tirupati to be installed at the premises and the belief is that nothing should be brought from there - anything that goes there does not come out and nothing from there should come out too. Anyone contravening this would be the object of wrath of the presiding deity!
At the time of writing this the accused is in judicial custody and the two whom he had intended to kill are not to be traced. They are not absconders unless a set of fresh charges is concocted against them and they are named as co accused. But it is the duty of the police to trace them and take their statements to corroborate the contents of the FIR. Will justice prevail? In the tears of sympathy for the accused who killed his own progeny, let it not be forgotten that the story would have been different if the intended target/s had been eliminated. Nobody would have shed any tears for the poor worker/s and their families and in all probability a case would have been made that they tried to attack the now accused with weapons and he shot with his licensed firearm in self defence!
In the meanwhile the whole issue arose because of the unfair labour practices of the accused. It is time that the trade unions take up this, trace out the intended victims and make them record their evidence before the legal authorities and see that the proper punishment is awarded for the murder accused and the violation of the rules in building commercial premises on agricultural land not meant for such use.
Prof. Narendra Nayak is President of Federation of Indian Rationalists Association