Pulling up Bombay HC Over Remark in Mohsin Shaikh Case, SC Says Religion Not an Excuse for Murder

While granting bail to the three accused in the case, the high court had observed that “the fault of the deceased was only that he belonged to another religion”.

New Delhi: The Supreme Court has pulled up the Bombay high court for its observations in the June 2014 murder case of Pune techie Mohsin Shaikh. The court’s observations seemed to suggest that the three accused had been provoked to commit the act of violence “in the name of religion”.

The high court’s remark in the order that “the fault of the deceased was only that he belonged to another religion” was made while granting bail to the accused.

On February 8, the apex court quashed the Bombay high court’s order pertaining to the three accused in the case – Vijay Gambhire, Ganesh Yadav and Ajay Lalge – who, according to a Hindustan Times report, are part of the right-wing group Hindu Rashtra Sena.

The three – among 21 from the Sena who were booked in connection with the murder – reportedly attended an “inflammatory” meeting just before they accosted and killed Shaikh. The meeting was held in the background of communal clashes in Pune. The group’s leader Dhananjay Jayram Desai was allegedly addressing the meeting that instigated the audience to violence.

Hearing an appeal by the deceased’s brother against the grant of bail, the apex court directed that the three to be taken into custody, and the Bombay high court to give fresh consideration to the bail plea and to take a decision within six weeks.

According to Indian Express, the apex court stated that religious identity cannot be an excuse to assault or murder anyone. A bench of Justices S.A. Bobde and L. Nageswara Rao further cautioned courts against passing observations “which may appear to be coloured with a bias for or against a community”.

The top court maintained that courts must be “fully conscious of the plural composition of the country” and hence abide by their duty to objectively decide rights of different groups, News18 reported.

The apex court stated: “While it may be possible to understand a reference to the community of the parties involved in an assault, it is difficult to understand why it was said that ‘the fault of the deceased was only that he belonged to another religion’…”

The Supreme Court observed that while the Bombay high court’s order may have intended to simply lay emphasis on the fact that communal hatred and not personal bias was behind the attack and may not have intended to hurt the feelings of any particular community or support the feelings of another community, “the words are clearly vulnerable to such criticism” and that “the direction cannot be sustained”.

Indian Express reported that Shaikh was on his way to meet a friend when he was attacked by a mob of 23 on June 2, 2014, in Pune’s Hadapsar. The prosecution reasoned that the accused “targeted them because they belonged to a certain community”, and claimed that “the accused were said to have been highly motivated to do the act because they had attended a meeting of a body called Hindu Rashtra Sena about half an hour before the incident”.

A fresh bail hearing in the Bombay high court is scheduled for today, February 16.

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