Free Speech Collective

Gauri Lankesh: Chronicle of a murder foretold

Name: Gauri Lankesh

Date of death: September 5, 2017

 Brief synopsis: Gauri Lankesh, 55, senior journalist and editor of Gauri Lankesh Patrike was shot dead at point blank range on September 5, 2017, at about 7.45 pm as she was entering her home in Bengaluru. She was an outspoken critic of right-wing extremism, and minced no words in her writings or speeches. She had received several death threats over the years. The modus operandi of the murder bears remarkable similarity to the murders of three other secular, rationalist intellectuals. The pattern in the brutal elimination of dissenting voices begs the question: if proper investigations were carried out and lynch pins and key conspirators apprehended, would Gauri Lankesh be alive today?

The conspiracy

The murder of Gauri Lankesh, 55, senior journalist and editor of Gauri Lankesh Patrike on September 5, 2017 outside her home in the heart of Bengaluru, sent shock waves across the country, and indeed the world. The blatant use of bullets to silence a vocal critic of right-wing extremism was widely condemned, and the ideology that supported such a brutal elimination of a voice of dissent came under attack. The probe undertaken by the Special Investigation Team (SIT) reveals a meticulously planned operation by a network of right-wing extremist groups across two states – Karnataka and Maharashtra.

There were similarities between the murder of Gauri Lankesh and the recent murders of three other rationalist and secular intellectuals. The motive, modus operandi, and weapon used is believed to be the same.

Given the similarities, a list was drawn up of over 200 people with links to hardline Hindu right-wing groups active in Karnataka, Maharashtra and Goa.

Murder: The lead up and aftermath

Uncovering the Conspiracy

The Weapon: The Missing Link

Lankesh was killed on September 5, 2017, by a gunman who fired four bullets at her while she was opening the gate to her home. Following the murder, police recovered three bullets that hit her and one that missed, and the four empty cartridges. They were sent for forensic analysis and comparison with bullets and cartridges. A September 13, 2017 ballistics report provided to the SIT reported that analysis of bullets and cartridges revealed that Kannada scholar M.M Kalburgi and Lankesh were killed with the same pistol. The SIT is yet to find the gun used in the journalist’s murder. The SIT is, however, yet to conduct forensic analysis of over a dozen guns found in possession of persons arrested in Maharashtra for alleged involvement in terrorism and the Lankesh murder.

Forensic analysis in 2015 by the Karnataka forensic lab of bullets and cartridges in the Kalburgi case with those recovered from the scene of the shooting of Leftist thinker Govind Pansare, 81, and his wife in Kolhapur on February 16, 2015 showed that one of two 7.65 mm countrymade guns used to shoot the Pansares was used to shoot Kalburgi. The report says the second 7.65-mm gun used in Pansare’s murder was used to kill rationalist Narendra Dabholkar, 69, at Pune on August 20, 2013. These forensic reports of Karnataka FSL from 2015 have been validated at the Gujarat FSL.

Karnataka SIT has so far arrested 16 persons — several of them linked to Sanatan Sanstha, its affiliate Hindu Janajagruti Samiti and other radical Hindutva groups — in connection with Lankesh’s murder, including alleged shooter Waghmare and his alleged recruiter Amol Kale. Lankesh was killed for her “anti-Hindu” stance, some of those arrested have said.

The group allegedly used the same set of guns for the four murders that they are now linked to because they considered the guns to be “special’’, sources said.

The SIT recently presented a memo to a court in Bengaluru to make Amol Kale, 37, the first accused, alleged shooter Waghmare the second accused. Amit Degwekar, 38, a Sanstha man who was allegedly central to planning the murder has now been listed at number five.

For more, and to see the SIT’s revised the list of persons accused in the Lankesh murder case on the basis of their involvement, click here.

The weapon used (a 7.65 mm bore country-made pistol) for Gauri Lankesh’s murder and other murders is suspected to have been procured and manufactured by Sharad Kalaskar, a resident of Aurangabad who was also arrested by the ATS over the Nallasopara arms and explosives case. Kalaskar, in his mid-20s, is alleged to have shot Narendra Dabholkar dead on August 20, 2013. Amol Kale and Amit Degwekar, arrested in May 2018 by the Maharashtra ATS, reportedly said that the gun, which is crucial evidence, was not thrown away as it was believed to be a talisman that would help them to eliminate anti-Hindutva forces even likened it to Lord Vishnu’s Sudarshana Chakra used to kill demons in Hindu mythology.

On October 25, 2018, Sharad Kalaskar, suspected to be the first person who shot Narendra Dabholkar, and allegedly in charge of weapons claimed to have destroyed four pistols in June 2018, including the weapon used to carry out the murders. Following the arrest of Amol Kale and Amit Degwekar in May 2018, he claimed to the investigation team that the remaining members decided to destroy the key evidence – the weapon. As all the weapons were with him, he dismantled and disposed four pistols, one of which was the weapon used in the murder of Gauri Lankesh and Dabholkar. However, the SIT is continuing to investigate the whereabouts of the weapon.

Challenges for the prosecution

Impunity for crimes against journalists can be dented only when due process is followed diligently and with rigour, from the stage of police investigation, forensics, charge-sheeting and subsequent trial. Any procedural or substantive lapses; use of force or misuse of authority by police, investigation officers, special teams or jail officials; political interests; subversion by anti-social elements or bowing to pressure, can jeopardise the case and subvert the interests of justice. The Gauri Lankesh murder case is being closely watched, as it could set a benchmark in uncovering larger political conspiracies to silence dissent and uncomfortable opinions, and pinning accountability on the perpetrators, whatever be their political hue.