Three years since activist-journalist Gauri Lankesh was shot dead by two motorcycle-borne assailants outside her house in Bengaluru, her killers are yet to be brought to justice. The police await the conviction of 19 men arrested in this connection, now languishing in jails.
Lankesh, a fierce critic of Hindu nationalist organisations and editor of the Kannada tabloid, Gauri Lankesh Patrike, was shot dead on September 5, 2017, in an alleged conspiracy to eliminate anti-Hindutva voices.
“We did our part and arrested 19 people involved in the murder. Now it is up to the judiciary,” said Inspector General of Police (Intelligence wing) BK Singh who headed the Special Investigation Team (SIT) formed to probe the murder.
Investigators said the gang had prepared a list of people they wanted to kill, which included the names of noted playwright Girish Karnad and rationalist KS Bhagawan. The SIT even found links between the murders of Gauri Lankesh and rationalist MM Kalburgi.
Kalburgi was shot dead at his house in Dharwad on August 30, 2015, by two motorcycle-borne assailants who had gained entry into his house posing as students.
The gun used for shooting Kalburgi was the same one used in Lankesh’s murder, it was reported.
According to the Karnataka SIT, the plot to kill Lankesh was hatched a year prior to the assassination. Amol Kale, a former convener of the Hindu Janjagruti Samiti, along with Parshuram Waghmare of Sri Ram Sene had conspired to kill her and took a recce of her house before taking the final shot.
Two other rationalists — Narendra Dabholkar and Govind Pansare — were murdered in a similar manner in Maharashtra, and investigation agencies suspect that even these murders are interconnected.
The Dharwad bench of the Karnataka High Court last year ordered the CBI to look into all these four cases and see if there was a pattern.
The police wing had claimed it wasn’t an easy task nabbing the culprits. The investigating team used artificial intelligence, machine learning, and DNA profiling to collect evidence against the conspirators. They even accessed CCTV footage from public places to gather further evidence against the accused.
Gauri Lankesh murder
Gauri Lankesh murder
In November 2018, the SIT had filed a 9,235-page chargesheet. The case remains pending trial.
The two murders — of Kalburgi and Lankesh — became a poll issue during the Karnataka Assembly elections in 2018. But after that, the political class turned silent on the issue, leaving it to the investigators.
The Supreme Court last year ordered the SIT probing the Lankesh murder case to take over the Kalburgi case as well following a plea by the rationalist’s wife.
As the final nail in the coffin, the police arrested Rushikesh Devdikar alias Murali, 44, part of the right-wing group Sanatan Sanstha. Devdikar went absconding following the murder of Lankesh and was caught this January from a hideout at Katras in Dhanbad district of Jharkhand.
Initially, the right-wing group had denied that Devidikar was part of the organisation. But after his arrest, they said he used to be a member of the organisation and had remained dormant for almost a decade. The organisation also distanced itself from Devdikar’s act.
To mark the third anniversary of Gauri Lankesh’s death, more than 400 women’s groups, LGBTQIA collectives, and human rights organisations across the country are organising the ‘If We Do Not Rise’ campaign on September 5, 2020. The campaign aims at uniting voices against targeted attacks on the constitutional rights of the people of India.
The campaign, which takes the digital mode due to COVID restrictions, will include songs and folk dances and video clips of women, including farmers, weavers, domestic helps, and sex workers, sharing their stories of struggle through Facebook live.
Special public prosecutor S Balan, in an interview with the Citizens for Justice and Peace, a human rights movement, had opined that the state government should constitute a special court that can hear the four connected matters on a daily basis.
“There are several precedents for these related cases to be appointed to a special court. This would ensure the case proceeds with speed and efficiency,” he had said.