Murder of an Activist and Thereafter

Murder of an activist and thereafter

Mangaluru: A month after the dastardly, cold-blooded murder of the RTI activist Vinayaka Baliga a number of questions still remain to be answered and the mystery yet to be solved. It was on the 21st March, early morning 5.30 am that he was attacked just outside his house and brutally murdered. He was also an electrical contractor and initially the incident was projected as the murder of an electrical contractor and in retrospect, it appears that it was a well-planned plot. The alleged killers were arrested within 24 hours and it looked like an open and shut case. But, when it was taken up as the case of an RTI activist and the mens rea was traced back to the activities he had conducted based on the information that he had gathered through his applications that the picture changed. Then it was again tried to be diverted as the murder of a blackmailer who used information gained through his RTI applications for his personal economic gains. Going through his activities it was clear that Baliga had hundreds of antagonists and quite a few of them should have had the desire to see his end!

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Though it is quite premature to come to any conclusions about the case as it is still at the investigation stage and two of the key accused absconding, it is quite obvious that the murder was a well planned one. There had been plans to surrender two alleged murderers and make them take the rap. The charge sheet would be a botched up one with gaps which would fall to pieces when questioned by a good defense lawyer! The accused would then be acquitted bringing the whole thing to a happy ending for the perpetrators as public memory proverbially is supposed to be short. Again, Baliga was a loner with two aged parents and sisters who were unlikely to pursue the case. When this plot fell apart and the real one arrested the alleged plotters Srikanth and Naresh Shenoy absconded. In fact, Naresh Shenoy was very much around for a few days after the murder and had acted innocent. But, when he realized that the investigators were closing in he did a disappearing act and has remained out of the reach of the police.

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Well, who could have had the motive to silence Baliga? The needle of suspicion points to many. He had been a social activist for several years pointing out the irregularities in many buildings, institutions and misdeeds of several individuals. In the month of March when he had been brutally eliminated we have been informed that he had filed a public interest litigation at the Karnataka High court about more than a thousand illegal buildings which had been served demolition orders by the Mangalore City corporations for violations of the building laws. It was also said that he had obtained an order from the High court which had directed this body to submit a list of such buildings in a month’s time. Since his files have been seized by the police the copies of his documents are awaited. So, the motivation for the crime could be from anyone on this list!

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As a social activist, he had noticed several glaring irregularities in his neighborhood. He had filed a complaint against his neighbor’s unauthorized construction on which demolition orders have been already served. But nothing has happened so far. He had filed a complaint against the unauthorized construction at Sharada School management who were also causing traffic jams and had recently built more than twice the sanctioned construction plans. Demolition orders had been made three years back but nothing had been done. The hearing of this complaint was to be on the 24th March- three days after his murder. There is a complex of around 360 flats called as Maurishka palace opposite to this school and according to rules such complexes have to construct and maintain their own sewage treatment plants before occupancy. Though this complex has been occupied the plant has not come into existence till date! While the promoter of the school is a well known BJP man, the promoter of the apartment complex is a Congress supporter! Well since most of the buildings planned for demolition would be that of the builders lobby which is a very powerful one cutting across party, community and religious lines, there have been no political moves against any of them. This is despite the fact that Baliga was a sincere BJP man, a booth level worker and the default setting for the community into which he was born and wanted to reform was for this party. The normally very vocal sections of either of these parties who raise their voices at any perceived injustice are conspicuous by their silence. In fact, one remarked that Mangalore would have burnt if a cow had been slaughtered instead of Baliga or if the assassins were to belong to some other community.

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That brings us to the affairs of the community into which he was born and wanted to reform- the GSBs of Mangalore. He had been an ardent devotee of Venkatarmana and would start his day with a visit to that temple. He had questioned the way the affairs of this temple and many properties belonging to the community were run. The silence of this community on this issue gives rise to suspicion, about the so-called leading figures of this community having had a hand in his murder. The issues have been complex and need to be elaborated further. The very fact that the absconding accused Naresh Shenoy was a leading figure of this community strengthens this. One of the focal points for Baligas campaign was the Sri Venkatramana temple at Car street, Mangalore. The temple is being run on the basis of a trust deed registered in 1927 or so. At that time, it was a small one with very limited resources and could be run on those lines. So, he had proposed reforms and had filed a case for that purpose which had been dismissed at the local level. But, he had gone on appeal to High court which had upheld his contentions and he had submitted a plan for reforms to bring about more accountability and transparency into the administrative affairs. Obviously, this was not the liking of the management of the temple who fancy themselves to be the leaders of the community and hence not accountable to anyone. He had also questioned a number of other things which had raised the hackles of the vested interests. He had filed a case about the transfer of a large piece of land from the temple to the Kashi math. This piece of land which also encloses a tank is being used to run a school for trainee priests since many decades. There has been no dispute about its ownership or occupancy. But, the change of ownership through a sale deed without any payment was questioned by Baliga which was not liked by many including the beneficiary. Again Baliga had written strong letters to many including the founders of a trust called as Sudha Trust in which he had questioned the integrity and honesty of the office bearers. He had also sent a letter to the present seer of the Kashi math asking him to account for the money which was collected. He had asked for a re-audit of the accounts of the renovation of the Venkatramana temple where several crores were allegedly not accounted for. It is said that this had upset the chartered accountant who had signed the original balance sheet. The hearing of this case which had been referred to the Lok Adalat had been scheduled for the 2nd April 2016- the day on which the death ceremonies of Baliga were conducted. The devotees of this math had other reasons to be miffed with Baliga- he had filed a complaint against a building put up by them at car street without the specified setback.

Naresh Shenoy who has been absconding since the 25th of March had a long history of animosity with the murdered Baliga. It has been said that this had been expressed many times. The very fact that Shenoy has been out of circulation and has been dodging the police- points to the acknowledgment of guilt! He has been trying for anticipatory bail at the sessions court at Mangalore. It has been also noticed that the present head of the Kashi math Sayyammeendra had made a hurried trip to Bengaluru on the 4th of April from Karkal without any formalities needed for such a visit. The custom for the head of Kashi math to travel to any place is to go by invitation only. There are various formalities to be complied with like meeting him outside the city limits to welcome him with respectful rites of worship. He is also compelled by custom to stay at the branch of his math at Malleshwaram, 18th cross. While he is free to travel anywhere as a citizen he is also expected to observe certain customs as per the practices of the GSB community for a sizeable section of which he is supposed to be the guru. While there are three of such to which different sections of GSBs owe allegiance, those in the southern parts of Karnataka and Kerala consider the head of the Kashi math as their spiritual guru. The other two are the Gokarn and Kaivalya maths. So, it cannot be said that that this is the only institution which is capable of providing spiritual solace to the community.

As we go to the press the questions are still open as to who were the moving forces behind the murder of Baliga? If course his desire to reform the society was the root cause and his reliance on the RTI act to seek information was the driving force. Is it the builders lobby? Is it the vested interests of the GSB community which he had decided to reform? Or was it a conspiracy of all those whom he had exposed? With the main accused Shrikanth and Naresh Shenoy at large with the latter seeking anticipatory bail, these questions will remain unanswered for the present. The ominous silence of the so-called mainstream political parties and the apathy of the public at large are indicators of the hard times ahead for those who want to bring about social changes. Is it a sign to activists who want to question the system that such is the fate in store for you if you dare to do it? It is for those in charge of the law and order and the party in power to demonstrate their earnestness and prove that it is not so and this is only an isolated incident. We are waiting for the action. We are planning a protest march from the spot where Baliga was murdered to the Mangalore Police commissioners office on the 2nd of May to demand justice for Baliga and his family.

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