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Lucknow's shame: No law in Mulayam land
Sharat Pradhan in Lucknow | March 27, 2006 18:25 IST
Last Updated: March 27, 2006 23:33 IST
The murder in broad daylight of a middle-aged Parsi woman in the capital of India's most populous state has sent one message loud and clear -- if you dare, be prepared to face the bullet in your face.
That was exactly what happened in the case of 52-year old Meher Bhargava, nee Shapurji, who was shot at a month back and died last Saturday. She was shot simply because she objected to eve-teasing that was rampant in a nearly lawless Lucknow.
A vivacious socialite, Bhargava had dared local goons who passed lewd remarks at her young daughter-in-law in the compound of a residential apartment, a stone's throw from the office-cum-residence of the district police chief.
The culprits included a contract killer, who, despite being "wanted" in several other murder cases was eluding arrest, allegedly because of patronage by influential politicians belonging to the ruling Samajwadi Party.
Shot at point black range, the bullet got lodged in her spine, leaving her completely paralysed, following which she was shifted to Delhi's Apollo Hospital where she breathed her last on Saturday.
According to Bhargava's family members, she was shot allegedly by a notorious history-sheeter Sachin Pahari, who had been at large even though he figured on the "wanted" list of the Lucknow police. The trigger-happy Pahari was allegedly using a flat rented by recently elected Samajwadi Party block pramukh K D Singh, also an accused in a couple of murder cases.
Sources alleged that Pahari remained in the "safe custody" of a ruling party legislator, who was known for violating laws with utter impunity. Earlier, about a year back, the same legislator had stormed a local police station to force the release of his cohort, none other than K D Singh.
It was the mounting public pressure that led Chief Minister Mulayam Singh Yadav to direct his cops to take Singh into custody but only as late as Sunday, just as Bhargava's family was going to carry out her last rites as per Parsi tradition in Lucknow.
K D Singh, however, flatly denied his presence at the flat from where the goons emerged to first pass lewd remarks at Bhargava's daughter-in-law who was accompanying her.
"I have never met or seen Meher Bhargava," he told mediapersons in the presence of Lucknow Senior Superintendent of Police Ashutosh Pandey .
Pandey, however, maintains, "We have reason to doubt his claim as the flat rented by him belonged to none other than Bhargava's son." He was, however, evasive about police's failure to nab the shooter Pahari and his accomplice Amit who are both named in the first information report.
The attitude of the local cops changed only after the chief minister visited Bhargava's family just before her funeral on Sunday.
Bhargava was shot on February 28; she remained in Lucknow's Sanjay Gandhi Post Graduate Institute of Medical Sciences for more than a week before being air-lifted to New Delhi's Apollo Hospital
"She battled for a month for her life, but it did not arouse concern with the people in power. Now that the police were getting into action, it seems they were waiting for her to die, while she waited all this while to get justice," remarked her sobbing mother-in-law Rani Ram Kumar Bhargava, a well known social worker.
Bhargava's husband Lov Bhargava, a local Congress party worker who enjoys close proximity with UP Congress chief Salman Khurshid, was equally unimpressed by the delayed police action.
"I have personally requested the chief minister to transfer the investigation in the case to the Central Bureau of Investigation, if his cops fail to get the real culprits within a week," he told rediff.com.
"The broad daylight shooting on February 28 outside a residential apartment -- barely 100 mt from the office of Lucknow district police chief -- and the failure of the administration to arrest the culprits speaks volumes of the state of law and order in Uttar Pradesh," said Khurshid .
The murder has created insecurity among common citizens, particularly women. "It is high time the administration realises it owes some duty towards common citizens; eve-teasing has been growing in Lucknow simply because the culprits usually enjoy the patronage of people in power," said Nishi Pandey, an activist and professor at Lucknow University.
She however stressed, "We ought to take inspiration from Bhargava who always believed in speaking her mind -- even at the cost of paying with her life."
Owner of Lucknow's leading book store and Bhargava's friend Chander Prakash wonders if this case too will go the Jessica Lal way.
"The whole trouble is that today people are charged and the media is also building pressure; but with the passage of time everyone forgets with the result that the officials get slack and often connive to let the rogues get away with murder -- literally," Prakash said.
Having been a practicing lawyer in the past and a popular socialite, Bhargava has a large following of friends who seem to identify with her. And their anger and anguish is likely to grow, unless the culprits were brought to book soon.
To express their concern and anguish over the failure of the cops to nab the culprits named by the deceased, citizens of Lucknow marched down the city's main thoroughfare with candles in their hands Monday evening.
Hundreds of men and women - young and old - marched down from Meher's home in downtown Hazratganj to the nearby statue of Mahatma Gandhi to raise their voice against the heinous crime.
"Catch the killers" ; "Women need safe social environment" ; "Justice Delayed is Justice Denied" ; "Violence and atrocities will not be tolerated anymore" – were some of the slogans emboldened on placards. Another huge banner read, "Lucknow sharmsaar hai prashasan ki naakami par" (Lucknow is ashamed over the failure of administration).