Noted journalist and publisher Gauri Lankesh was killed in a hail of gunfire at her residence in Bengaluru on Tuesday evening. Lankesh, a well-known critic of the right wing, took three bullets to her chest after four unknown assailants fired seven rounds at her in her home in Rajarajeshwari Nagar.
Even as Karanataka chief minister Siddaramaiah termed her death shocking, home minister Ramalinga Reddy drew parallels between the deaths of Lankesh and rationalists Narendra Dabholkar and MM Kalburgi, allegedly by fringe Hindu groups. Historian Ramachandra Guha too felt that Lankesh’s murder was “part of a pattern that links the deaths of Dabholkar, Kalburgi and (Govind) Pansare”.
This link was further bolstered by a senior police official who said that the modus operandi in the Gauri Lankesh murder seems very close to what had been witnessed earlier. "Bullets were fired on chest and heads, and the three assailants came on a bike. It's very similar to what was witnessed in the murder of Pansare, Dabholkar, and Kalburgi," the police official said.
The official also added that like Pansare, Dabholkar, and Kalburgi, Gauri was also not very influential. "She was not someone who could bring down a government. So, why such killings continue to take place also warrants investigation," he added.
Let's take a look at the incidents being linked with Lankesh's murder.
Activist Narendra Dabholkar, who was at the forefront of a campaign to persuade the Maharashtra government to pass an anti-superstition and black magic bill, was shot dead by unknown assailants in August 2013. He was found dead in a pool of blood at Omkareshwar bridge in Pune.
Dabholkar was also the editor of Sadhana magazine which was devoted to the propagation of progressive thought.
According to a DNA report, the two attackers who killed Dabholkar fired four rounds at him from point-blank range and then fled on a motorcycle parked nearby.
Senior Communist leader Govind Pansare was shot and killed in February 2015. Two men on a motorcycle shot five times at Pansare and his wife at close range outside their house, reported Outlook. His wife survived but Pansare succumbed to his injuries.
Pansare was associated with various social movements that involved the unorganised sector including farm labourers, domestic help, auto-rickshaw unions and others. Around the time of his death, he was leading an anti-toll agitation in Kolhapur. He was also a known critic of right-wing forces and had written many books on the ills in Indian society. In his book 'Who Was Shivaji', he portrayed Shivaji as a secular leader as against the portrayal by right wing outfits.
Pansare was a close associate of rationalist Narendra Dabholkar. Following Dabholkar's death, Pansare had stepped up pressure on the government for the passage of the Anti-Superstition Bill which was finally passed in December 2015.
Former vice-chancellor of Hampi University MM Kalburgi was shot dead at his residence by unidentified gunmen in August 2015. He was shot in the head and chest by two unidentified men who had come on a two-wheeler, as per the Outlook report.
Kalburgi was a renowned Kannada writer, research scholar and rationalist. In 2014, a case had been filed against him for allegedly hurting the sentiments of Hindus after he criticised idol worship. Kalburgi had not cowed down but had continued his campaign against idol worship and Brahminical rituals. His home had been a target for miscreants, who would pelt stones and bottles. In another instance, activists had disturbed his public speech when he had raised the issue of idol worship.
Similar modus operandi for the murders
Like the others, Lankesh too was shot at point-blank range by unknown assailant near her residence. She too had a reputation of speaking out against entrenched religious practices. In light of these facts, it is impossible to ignore the possibility that these murders are related.
The link between the murders of rationalists has not gone unnoticed. In August 2017, the Bombay High Court had observed that the murders of Dabholkar and Pansare were similar and were 'well-planned' acts. The court had noted, "The reports reveal that these were clearly not one or two stray incidents. Certain organisations must be backing them, helping them financially. These incidents were well-planned."
The court had many facts to base its observation on. Investigators had found that all three murders had been committed with the same weapon, according to The Times of India. The forensic analysis of the bullet cartridges recovered at the crime scenes had revealed that the same 7.65-mm country-made pistol was used. A senior police official had said that the three cases had earlier been linked on the basis of the victims' profiles, probable motives and the modus operandi.
Further, documents were seized from Samir Gaikwad — an accused under arrest in Pansare's murder — which indicated a link to the murders of Dabholkar and Kalburgi, The Hindu had reported.
The investigators had also found that in two of the three cities where the murders took place, a common mobile phone device has been found to be active with different SIM cards around the time of the murders, as per The Indian Express.
Dabholkar and Pansare's murders have been linked to the right-wing group Sanatan Sanstha as investigators in the murder cases have looked into their call record details, locations of sadhaks etc.
The pattern is frightening
The fact that one journalist was murdered is worrying in itself. However the idea there could be a pattern and an organised effort to eliminate those with thoughts different from the mainstream is downright frightening.
The Caravan while writing about the murders quoted an editorial titled 'A "Tolerant" State'in the Economic and Political Weekly which had observed, “While Dabholkar, Pansare and MM Kalburgi’s murders (as well as the harassment meted out to others like them) are deplorable, what is even more despicable is the silence of large sections of the population and the continuing support of political interests to their tormentors.” This absence of a proper government response “is a clear indication that citizens feel they are not safe if they speak out against entrenched religious vested interests and that the state will not take their complaints seriously.”
The chilling effect of these murders cannot be overstated. It is up to the government and the law enforcement agencies to ensure that the guilty are brought to justice. However it is also important that the people must remember and agitate against these crimes. Otherwise, these incidents could lose their shock value and merely become the norm.
With inputs from PTI
Updated Date: Sep 07, 2017 13:17:34 IST