Gauri Lankesh Trial Commences in Bengaluru, Key Witnesses Appear in Court
Bengaluru: The Gauri Lankesh murder trial commenced this week, almost 5 years after she was killed by two bike-borne assailants, outside her Bengaluru home, on September 5, 2017. Lankesh was a journalist and the editor of the Gauri Lankesh Patrike, a Kannada weekly started by her. The Special Investigation Team (SIT) which cracked the case, received the ‘Union Home Ministers Medal for Excellence in Investigation’ in 2019. So far, 17 suspects have been apprehended, and one person is absconding. The case is being tried at the Karnataka Control of Organised Crimes (KCOCA) Court in Bengaluru. As per the charge sheet, the murder was meticulously planned by active members of the Sanatan Sanstha and the Hindu Janajagruti Samiti.
It is alleged that the men had envisioned the creation of a Hindu Rashtra and were following the teachings of a book called ‘Kshatra Dharma Sadhana’. This book lays out details of the enemies of Hinduism. Accordingly, Gauri Lankesh was identified as an enemy due to her supposed ‘anti Hindu’ writings. As per the charge sheet, Amol Kale was the alleged mastermind of the plot. Ganesh Miskin was the bike rider, while Parashuram Waghmore was the alleged shooter. All have been arrested. The men were allegedly organised into a syndicate as far back as 2010 under the leadership of Dr. Virendra Tawde. The members of the syndicate including Amol Kale, have been booked for the murders of Narendra Dabholkar and Govind Pansare, and for conspiring to kill the progressive thinker, KS Bhagwan. They have also been booked by ATS Mumbai for the illegal possession of weapons, gelatin sticks, and detonation devices. Most of the accused have been lodged in the Parappana Agrahara Jail in Bengaluru, while others are at Arthur Road jail in Mumbai. One accused is lodged in Yerawada Central Jail in Pune. They appear for the trial via video conference.
Here are some key facts of the trial as of 6 July 2022
- Six witnesses have taken the stand so far, including Gauri’s sister, Kavitha Lankesh
- The first witness was Anil Kumar, a person affiliated with Hindu groups. He identified one of the accused- KT Naveen Kumar and alleged that Naveen had asked him to buy an air gun in Mysuru for arms training. As per the SIT, Naveen Kumar was a gun runner and a leader in the Hindu Yuva Sena, an extremist organisation
- The next witness was Syed Shabbir, who works in a gun shop in Bengaluru. He identified KT Naveen Kumar as the person who once purchased an air gun from his shop
- Krishna Kumar, a family friend of Gauri, testified that he saw four 7.65 mm cartridges and a deformed bullet near her body
- Kavitha Lankesh told the court that on the week of her murder, her sister had mentioned that suspicious men were lurking around her house. The defense team suggested that Gauri had Naxal links and that that could be a plausible cause of her death. Kavitha, however, maintained that Gauri was targeted for her writings by the right wing groups.
- Prakash, a cable repairman, testified that he had come to Gauri’s house because she had complained about poor clarity in some TV channels. When he arrived, he saw her body in a pool of blood. Due to the extensive cross examination of Prakash, the judge, Justice Chandrashekar Joshi enquired whether the defense team was suggesting that the cable repairman was involved in the murder. The defense lawyer replied that it could be a possibility. However, at this point, the lawyer was admonished by the judge for fishing around without asking pertinent questions.
- Manohar, a labourer, who at that time, lived in the basement of a newly constructed apartment building located near Gauri's house. He told the court that on the night of the murder, he was having dinner with his wife, when he heard a few loud bangs, He climbed up to the second floor to see what was going on. From there, he saw the body, lying on the ground outside the house.
- The Chief Investigation Officer of the SIT is MN Anucheth (IPS), and the Special Public Prosecutor in the case is Adv. S Balan
How the plot was allegedly hatched
Between 2010-2017, the accused received arms training in various locations - Jalna city (Maharashtra), Madikeri (Karnataka), Sulibhanjan Forest (Maharashtra), Belagavi, Kolhapur, Hubli, Mangaluru, and Pune. One of the accused, Bharat Kurne owned a farmhouse in Chikhale village in Maharashtra. This was used by at least 8 of the accused for target practice with air pistols and country-made pistols. In August 2016, Amol Kale allegedly organised a meeting with the other accused in Belagavi where he marked Gauri for assassination for ‘repeatedly disparaging’ Hinduism in her writings, and for delivering a speech in Mangaluru, where she claimed that Hinduism was not a religion, and no such religion ever existed in ancient times. He believed that Gauri was damaging the religion and that if she were allowed to continue, society would form a negative opinion of the same.
In the months leading up to the murder, one of the accused, Suresh HL, rented a house on the outskirts of Bengaluru, in a place called Seegehalli. Suresh was tasked with tracking Gauri’s address. He allegedly traced the address of her magazine office from a public library. Sometime in February/March, 2017, the accused followed Gauri from her workplace to her home. Similarly, another accused, Mohan Nayak rented a house at Kumbalgodu. As per the charge sheet, he told the landlord that he was renting in the city for Acupuncture treatment. This area also lies on the outskirts of Bengaluru, and is very close to the Bengaluru-Mysuru highway. These houses were used by the men to lay low and plan the murder and the getaway routes. They also arranged for a small, nondescript shed in which the pistols and bullets were safely stored. Before the killing, the accused traveled to their hometowns and left their phones there to make it appear as though they were not present in Bengaluru at the time of Gauri’s death. After the murder, the two alleged assailants exited the city by bus.
The names of the 18 accused are - Amol Kale, Parashuram Waghmore, Ganesh Miskin, Amit Ramachandra Baddi, Amit Degvekar, Bharat Kurne, Suresh HL, Rajesh Bangera, Sudhanva Gondalekar, Sharath Kalaskar, N Mohan Nayak, Vasudev Bhagwan Suryavanshi, Sujith Kumar, Manohar Yadwe, Shrikanth Pangarkar, KT Naveen Kumar, Rushikesh Devdikar and Vikas Patil. Vikas Patil is absconding. It must be noted that the murder weapon in the case has not yet been recovered. It is alleged that a few days after the murder, they dismantled the pistol and threw it into the Ullas river, near the Mumbai-Nashik highway. The accused have been charged under various sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) as well as the Karnataka Control of Organised Crimes Act (KCOCA).
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