04, Sep 2020 | Deborah Grey
Journalist and activist Gauri Lankesh was snatched away from friends, family and her fellow journalists three years ago. The fearless journalist was gunned down outside her home on September 5, 2017. Her killers, all affiliated to different right wing extremist organisations, wanted to silence her for her secular views and her stand against hardline groups that spread communal hate.
Since then, 17 people have been arrested in connection with the case, and one accused is still missing. At present, the case is before the Karnataka Control of Organised Crime (KCOCA) Court.
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FIR and charges
The said incident came under the jurisdiction of Rajarajeshwari Nagar police station of Bangalore City and on the same day an FIR was registered under Sections 302, 120(B), 114, 118, 109, 201, 203, 204, 35 of I.P.C. and Sections 25(1), 25(1B), 27(1) of the Indian Arms Act, 1959 and Sessions 3(1)(i), 3(2), 3(3) and 3(4) of the COCA Act, 2000 ( Order No.C.R.M./01/158/BC/2017-18 dated 06-09-2017 of the D.G. and I.G.P.) as Crime No. 221/2017. Gauri Lankesh’s sister, Kavitha Lankesh is the first informant in the case.
The Karnataka Special Investigation Team (SIT) began probing the case. Two chargesheets were filed in the case. The primary chargesheet was filed against KT Naveen Kumar, a 37-year-old member of the Hindu Yuva Sena on May 30, 2018. On November 23, 2018 the supplementary chargesheet running into 9,235 pages was filed. 18 people have reportedly been named in the chargesheet. These include shooter Parashuram Waghmare, masterminds Amol Kale, Sujith Kumar alias Praveen and Amit Digwekar. It was in this chargesheet that the Sanatan Sanstha was mentioned for the first time.
The chargesheet also mentions 26 other people who were on a hit list of sorts. These are eminent journalists, educationists and intellectuals who are perceived to be anti-Hindu by the Sanatan Sanstha. These include Siddharth Varadrajan (Editor, The Wire), journalist Antara Dev Sen, JNU professor Chaman Lal, Punjabi playwright Atamjit Singh among others.
Years of plotting
According to the Karnataka SIT, the plot to kill Lankesh was hatched a year before the assassination. Amol Kale, a former Hindu Janjagruti Samiti convener, allegedly hired killer Parshuram Waghmare. Waghamare was allegedly a member of the Sri Ram Sene. Kale took him to an isolated spot in Khanapur, Belgaum to practice using an air pistol. Waghmare allegedly did a recce of Lankesh’s house in Rajarajeshwari Nagar in July 2017. On September 5, he and another back-up gunman Ganesh Miskin arrived outside Lankesh’s house on a black motorcycle. Waghmare fired four times at Lankesh and the duo fled the scene.
However, the group responsible came together in 2010-11 suggesting that this was a wider conspiracy planned over a longer period aiming to eliminate more rationalists, journalists and activists. In a press release the SIT had said, “The investigation so far has revealed that all the 18 accused are active members of an organised crime syndicate. This syndicate was formed in 2010-11, under the leadership of Virendra Tawade alias Bade Bhaisaab. One former editor of ‘Sanatan Prabhat’ provided financial support to this syndicate. The members of this organisation targeted people who they identified to be inimical to their belief and ideology. The members strictly followed the guidelines and principles mentioned in ‘Kshatra Dharma Sadhana’, a book published by Sanatan Sanstha.” The statement further added, “In August 2016, in a meeting of the syndicate, the main members identified Ms. Lankesh as a “durjan” as told in the ‘Kshatra Dharma Sadhana’, based on her speeches and writings. They jointly hatched a conspiracy to murder her.”
Connection with other high-profile assassinations
The attack on Gauri Lankesh cannot be viewed in isolation. She was a journalist and a rationalist who had raised her voice against right-wing Hindutva extremists. Her assassination was along the lines of the cold-blooded murders of MM Kalburgi, Govind Pansare and Narendra Dabholkar.
Three of the accused in the Gauri Lankesh murder case are also linked to the plot to kill anti-superstition activist Narendra Dabholkar. Dabholkar was shot dead on August 20, 2013. The same weapon was used in both crimes according to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI). Sachin Andure, one of the alleged shooters of Dabholkar, was arrested by the CBI and has been remanded to judicial custody. Meanwhile, his co-accused Rajesh Bangera and Amit Digvekar have also been remanded to judicial custody. Bangera had allegedly provided weapons training to Andure and Sharad Kalaskar, the two men who allegedly shot Narendra Dabholkar. Meanwhile Digvekar had helped recon Dabholkar’s house and keep tabs on his movement and routine. Digvekar was also a ‘saadhak’ in the Sanatan Sanstha.
In January 2019, Gauri’s sister Kavitha, a filmmaker and poet, filed an intervention application in the MM Kalburgi murder case saying, “The Special Investigation Team (SIT) headed by Inspector General of Police (Karnataka) has been conducting the Investigation with great speed and urgency and moreover the entire Investigation has been committed to a Court though not yet completed. The SIT Investigation is being carried out with great pace and from January 2018 till date, 16 accused persons have been arrested and incriminating evidences have been unearthed by the SIT. Following this, even the preliminary and subsequent Charge Sheets have been filed.” Moreover, she has stated that “if at this advanced stage of the Investigation into the matter of the cold-blooded murder of the sister of the Applicant, any change is made or the Investigation is shifted to any other agency, the entire process would be de-railed.”
On February 26, 2019, the Supreme Court directed that the investigation into the killing of noted linguist and historian, MM Kalburgi be handed over to the Special Investigation Team (SIT), Karnataka that was also investigating the Gauri Lankesh murder. Further, the SC bench headed by Rohinton Nariman also directed that the Dharwad bench of the Karnataka High Court will monitor the investigation.
On March 2, 2018, the Special Investigation Team (SIT) investigating Lankesh’s assassination made its first arrest, apprehending right-wing activist K. T. Naveen Kumar, of Maddur, who in 2015 founded the Hindu Yuva Sene. Kumar who reportedly confessed to Lankesh’s murder had previously been arrested in February 2018 in relation to a case involving illegal arms.
On May 30, 2018, when the SIT filed a 650-page chargesheet in the Lankesh murder case, KT Naveen Kumar was named in it. Kumar allegedly obtained the bullets that were used to kill Gauri Lankesh, and that he allegedly supplied logistical support to her killers and directed them to her residence and office in Bengaluru. It alleges that the bullets were from an ammunition store called Bangalore Armoury, and that Kumar purchased them around eight years ago. Syed Shabeer, who works at City Gun House in Kalasipalya, claimed to the SIT that he sold Kumar 18 bullets for Rs. 3,000 about eight years ago.
The SIT, in the chargesheet, stated, “The accused were angry with her for speaking against Hindu dharma, Gods of Hindu dharma and insulting Hindu dharma”. Kumar’s wife, Roopa C. N., gave the SIT a statement, which indicated that Kumar was associated with the Sanatan Dharma Sanstha, largely in 2017.
In late May 2018, the SIT arrested four more people with ties to right-wing group Sanatan Sanstha for a January 2018 conspiracy to kill K. S. Bhagwan. The four individuals also had ties to Sanatan Sanstha’s sister outfit, the Hindu Janajagruti Samiti (HJS), and were also connected to Kumar, in 2017 had attended multiple HJS meetings. The four individuals are named Amol Kale alias Bhaisab, an HJS activist from Maharashtra, Amit Degwekar alias Pradeep, a Sanatan Sanstha activist from Goa, Manohar Edave of Karnataka, and Sujeet Kumar alias Praveen, an activist with Sanatan Sanstha and the HJS from Mangalore.
On June 11, 2018 the sixth accused in the case, Parashuram Waghmare, 26, was arrested. On Thursday, June 14, police reportedly interrogated Waghmare and the previously arrested Amol Kale. Waghmare had allegedly claimed that Kale instructed him to carry out the killing, and gave him a country-made pistol.
Sharad Kalaskar was arrested on August 10, 2018 by the Maharashtra Anti Terrorism Squad (ATS) after a tip off from the Karnataka Special Investigation Team (SIT) which was probing the Gauri Lankesh murder case. The ATS claims that Kalaskar was also one of the two gunmen who shot and killed Narendra Dabholkar in August 2013. According to the ATS, the weapon used to kill Gauri Lankesh and other rationalists was also procured and manufactured by Kalaskar.
A note on how to make bombs was also recovered from him. Kalaskar was arrested along with Vaibhav Raut and Sudhanwa Gondhalekar from the Nallasopara home of Raut who is the convener of the Hindu Govansh Raksha Samiti. 20 crude bombs and two gelatin sheets were recovered during this raid. Meanwhile, Gondhalekar is a member of Shiv Shivapratishthan Hindustan, an organisation run by none other than Shambhaji Bhide, one of the two main accused in the Bhima Koregaon violence.
In July 2019, Uma Devi, wife of slain rationalist MM Kalburgi identified the gunman who shot her husband. Earlier the SIT had arrested Praveen Chatur, a Belgavi resident who had allegedly ferried this gunman in the Kalburgi murder. While police had initially suspected Amit Baddi, a friend of Ganesh Miskin, of being the biker, sketches prepared by police artists did not match eye witness descriptions. When the SIT probed the matter again, interrogation of Amol Kale pointed them towards Chatur. Chatur was also wanted in a petrol bomb attack on a theater screening Padmavat in Belgavi in January. He has now turned state’s witness in the Gauri Lankesh case. In his statement he has reportedly admitted to attending training camps in Jalna and Mangaluru.
Rishikesh Dewarkar was the last one to be arrested in the case so far. Dewarkar who also went by the alias Rajesh was arrested from Katras town in Dhanbad district of Jharkhand in January 2020. He had been on the run ever since the assassination and had been laying low, working at a petrol pump in Katras for several months under an assumed identity.
Last year, in an exclusive interview to CJP, Special Public Prosecutor S Balan had described the case investigations as meticulous. “From the logistics behind the crime, to collection and recovery of every piece of evidence, the SIT investigation has left no loophole,” he said. He is of the opinion that if the state government were to constitute a Special Court that can hear the four connected matters from day to day so that the trial(s) can be concluded from six months to a year as same set of people and organisations are accused in all cases. “There are several precedents for these related cases to be appointed to a Special Court. This would ensure that the case proceeds with speed and efficiency since otherwise this is a busy court hearing other matters too,” he said.
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