A demonstrator wears a poster with the photograph of Gauri Lankesh, the Indian journalist murdered in Bangalore on Sept. 5, 2017, along with names of other recent victims of persecution in India. Photo: Asia Times/Patrick Dunne

The assassination of veteran Kannada journalist and political activist Gauri Lankesh at her Bangalore residence on Tuesday night sparked off a wave of protests across India.

There were demonstrations on Wednesday in Delhi, Chennai, Kolkata, Mumbai and Bangalore, and other parts of the country. Hundreds of protesters gathered at the Town Hall of Bangalore to condemn the brutal murder.

Journalists and social activists hold placards and posters as they attend a protest against the killing of Gauri Lankesh, a senior Indian journalist who was shot dead outside her home on Sept. 5, 2017 by unidentified assailants in the southern Indian city of Bangalore. Photo: Reuters/Amit Dave

Critics pointed out that even when the ruling BJP’s campaign slogan was ‘bahut hua naari par waar, abki baar Modi sarkaar’ (which means enough of violence against women, this time it’s Modi government), the brutal killing of a senior female journalist who had anti-establishment views has raised serious  questions about the safety of women and those with divergent views.

Speaking to Asia Times, TK Rajalakshmi, vice-president of the Indian Women’s Press Corps, said, “Records show the cult of violence that is being promoted by Hindu right-wing groups has made the situation vulnerable for women. As we know, Gauri was a fierce critic of the Bharatiya Janata Party and similar-minded groups who imposed their ideas and culture on the people.”

Rajalakshmi does not view it as an isolated event.

“Her murder is a part of the chain of murders which links the deaths of  Narendra Dabholkar, MM Kalburgi and Govind Pansare. The murder indicates that there is a section that exists in our country that suppresses the freedom of speech.”

Her death mirrors that of the leading progressive thinker and researcher MM Kalburgi, who was shot dead at his Dharwad home in 2015

Her death mirrors that of the leading progressive thinker and researcher MM Kalburgi, who was shot dead at his Dharwad home in 2015. Firstpost quoted a senior police official as saying that the modus operandi in the murder of Lankesh is similar to the killings of Kalburgi and the rationalists Narendra Dabholkar and Govind Pansare.

Asia Times reported on Tuesday that three unidentified gunmen shot her multiple times at the entrance to her residence in Rajarajeshwari Nagar at about 8 pm. Hearing the gunshots, her neighbors rushed to find her lying in a pool of blood. She was hit in the head and chest and succumbed to her injuries at the scene.

News and images of the cold-blooded killing quickly spread on social media. Senior police officers rushed to the scene to conduct a preliminary probe as the victim was known for boldly criticizing those in power, provoking a slew of defamation cases.

The 55-year-old daughter of journalist-writer P Lankesh was convicted last year in two cases of criminal defamation filed in reaction to a 2008 news report in which she had alleged that three BJP workers defrauded a jeweler to the tune of Rs1 lakh (US$1,560), Newslaundry reported.

Though the incident was reported in several local dailies, her tabloid was the only one to name those involved. In addition to her activism, Lankesh was the editor of the weekly tabloid magazine Gauri Lankesh Patrike (GLP), a newspaper columnist and a panelist on television shows.

Lankesh was widely admired for taking a strong stand against communalism in Karnataka. In a public speech, Lankesh said she was facing death threats.

Subsequent defamation cases filed against her by Dharwad MP Pralhad Joshi and BJP leader Umesh Dushi arose from their contempt for her political worldview.

GLP is known for its anti-establishment flavor and reflects her concerns as an activist. The magazine, which does not take advertisements from either governments or corporations,  it is run by a team of 50 employees and more than two dozen regular columnists and contributors. GLP is financially supported by Lankesh’s other publishing enterprises.

Theories galore, police muted

A day after the gruesome killing, Bangalore city police were tight-lipped about possible suspects, but several conspiracy theories were being floated in the media and elsewhere. While journalists looked at different angles, the possible role of Hindu fringe groups was gaining traction. However, City Police Commissioner T Sunil Kumar dismissed those theories, saying his department was examining CCTV footages installed at her home, as well as the call details from three nearby mobile phone towers.

A journalist who did not wish to be named told Asia Times that a gang of professional killers was behind the murder. From Tuesday afternoon, some of them were waiting for Lankesh to leave her newspaper office at the crowded Basavanagudi area. As soon as she came out in the evening, they alerted the three gunmen waiting in a grove at a newly developed layout 100 feet away from Lankesh’s home in Rajarajeshwari Nagar, the source said.

When Lankesh reached her home around 7.45 pm and was about to open the gate to drive her car through, the gunmen rolled up on a scooter and  fired seven rounds at close range. Three of the bullets hit her head and chest. Hearing the shots, one of her neighbors ran to the scene and saw a scooter speeding away.

Lankesh was close to top ministers of the Congress-ruled Karnataka government. Law Minister TB Jayachandra, who drew a link between the murders of Lankesh and renowned Kannada scholar MM Kalburgi in 2015, was supposed to meet her at his office on Wednesday, sources told Asia Times. Lankesh and Vimala, another activist, sought an appointment with him last Friday but the meeting did not take place as he was preoccupied with other matters.

Critics of Hindu fringe groups compared her killing to that of Kalburgi in Dharwad and the rationalist Narendra Dhabolkar in Pune in 2013. The only difference is that Kalburgi and Dhabolkar were killed early in the morning while Lankesh was shot at night. The killers of Dhabolkar and Kalburgi have not been arrested.

The Network for Women in India called for a coalition of resistance against such threats: “We want to declare to ourselves and to everyone that is watching with and without malice: we will not be prevented, silenced, outdone or shut down.”

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