Nearly two months after Mangaluru RTI activist Vinayak Baliga was brutally murdered right outside his house, police have not yet apprehended his murderers. While his family is still grieving, the motives of the murder too are not yet clear.
Fifty-one-year-old Vinayak was attacked by assailants with lethal weapons when he was on his way to the temple on March 21. His family and friends allege that he had made powerful enemies because he had unearthed alleged financial irregularities in the management of a temple and also alleged violations by prominent builders in the coastal city. Police found a large number of documents in Vinayak’s house.
An electrical contractor by profession, Vinayak also doubled up as an activist who used the RTI to unearth municipal documents concerning building violations. President of the Federation of Indian Rationalists Narendra Nayak said Vinayak had filed a Public Interest Litigation against the Mangalore City Corporation with regard to the violation of building laws by a number of influential builders and others.
One of alleged violators mentioned in the PIL is a college which is headed by Dakshina Kannada VHP chief MB Puranik, Nayak says. Baliga had alleged that they had built in excess of the permitted area and begun to use the facilities without occupancy certificate by the Mangaluru City Corporation. Puranik however, has told the media that he was respectable man with nothing to hide.
Vinayak’s death has split the Gouda Saraswath Brahmin (GSB) community, to which he belonged, right down the middle. Vinayak had begun to raise questions about the finances of the Sri Venkataramana Temple on Car Street, which is an important temple for the GSB community in Mangaluru.
Vinayak’s friend and lawyer GD Bhat said that the former often discussed cases with him. “Vinayak had told me that he had documents that could prove the diversion of cash meant for temple renovation by the previous temple management,” Bhat said.
Narendra Nayak, added: “The court had ordered an audit of temple funds. But the management never carried it out. The case is now transferred to the Lok Adalat.”
Bhatt says that after Vinayak’s murder, no auditor was ready to audit the temple’s funds for fear of being attacked.
In January, Vinayak had filed a case with a local court accusing the management of illegally giving away 32 guntas of temple land to the Kashi Mutt, which is located near the temple.
Vinayak’s allegations against the Kashi Mutt and Venkatramana Temple have riled up many community members and groups. Their actions and comments have pained Vinayak’s family, which is still struggling to deal with his murder.
Vinayak’s sister Usha Baliga is not just upset, but also angry. On May 9, a community group called the GSB Hitharakshana Vedike held a condolence meeting for Vinayak’s family. Priest of the Venakatramana Temple Narasimha Acharya made some insensitive remarks, she said.
“First of all, they woke up to this over a month after my brother died. If that wasn’t enough, the priest asked us not to link the temple and the Kashi Mutt with the murder. What was worse was that one of the members asked us to stay away from ‘Dhusta Shakti’ (meaning evil energy, but also a veiled reference to a sub-sect of the community),” Usha says.
Although she is pained by the lack of progress in apprehending her brother’s killers, Usha refused to comment on the police investigation. “We are struggling to get things together as my brother was the only earning member,” she said.
Police have arrested three people who led them to the prime suspect Naresh Shenoy, the local head of the NaMo Brigade. Shenoy created the Yuva Brigade after the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.
Mangaluru Police Commissioner Chandra Shekar told The News Minute that the police suspect that Shenoy was the mastermind along with three others who planned the conspiracy. All four are absconding.