State funeral for Gauri Lankesh, K’taka CM orders SIT probe as protests erupt
Journalist-activist Gauri Lankesh, a known critic of right-wing extremism, was shot dead outside her Bengaluru home on Tuesday.
Protests swept India on Wednesday against the killing of senior journalist Gauri Lankesh in Bengaluru as Karnataka set up a special investigation team and police pored over surveillance footage to solve the sensational murder.
Lankesh was laid to rest with full state honours in Bengaluru where thousands of people poured in to pay their respects to the 55-year-old editor and outspoken critic of Hindu right-wing elements. Unidentified assailants pumped three bullets into her head and chest on Tuesday night while she was entering her residence in the city’s busy Rajarajeshwari Nagar.
“It was a dastardly attack by organised criminals… I have ordered the constitution of a SIT, which will be headed by an inspector general of police,” chief minister Siddaramaiah told reporters.
“She had met me just a week ago but she had not informed me about any threat to her life,” he added. The Union home ministry also sought a report from the state government.
Siddaramaiah said he personally examined CCTV videos and that said in the footage, a person wearing a helmet is seen approaching Lankesh, who was opening the gate to her house to park her car. “This person is seen firing at her, and because of the impact of the shots that were fired at close range she falls back inside her compound,” the chief minister added.
Lankesh’s murder prompted spontaneous events across 10-odd cities to protest against what the Editors Guild of India called a “brutal assault on the freedom of the press”. In Delhi, Bengaluru, Chennai, Hyderabad, Kolkata, Pune, Lucknow, Patna and many other cities, ordinary citizens joined writers and journalists in demonstrating against the killing and demanding strict action. “The silencing of a journalist in this manner has dangerous portents for Indian democracy,” said the Indian Women Press Corps.
Lankesh’s brother, Indrajit, also expressed confidence that the culprits would be traced with the help of CCTV footage and the journalist’s mobile phone. “Her mobile phone also contains a lot of evidence and clues... Investigation is underway,” he added.
Her death brought the spotlight back on three similar killings of rationalists and left-leaning thinkers since 2013 -- Maharashtra’s Narendra Dabholkar, Govind Pansare, and Karnataka’s MM Kalburgi. In all cases, probes have seen little progress though chief minister Siddaramaiah ruled out an immediate connection between these incidents and Lankesh’s murder.
Politicians sparred over her death, with Congress president Sonia Gandhi saying she asked Siddaramaiah to ensure swift justice. “Anybody who speaks against the RSS/BJP is attacked & even killed. They want to impose only one ideology which is against the nature of India,” said party vice-president Rahul Gandhi.
But the BJP attacked the state government, blaming it for delay in the investigations into Kalburgi’s murder and demanding a CBI probe into Lankesh’s death. “Law and order of Karnataka is the responsibility of the state government, under Congress. Holding the prime minister responsible for it is wrong,” said Union minister Nitin Gadkari.
Many journalists and intellectuals in Bengaluru also appeared angry with the state government. “When we asked Siddaramaiah to ensure justice for Kalburgi, he only gave us assurances… Maybe if that murder had been cracked we might not have seen this day,” said K Neela, a close associate of Lankesh.
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