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Update on the Murder of Gauri Lankesh

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Gau­ri Lankesh

COMMENT: In FTR #990, we high­light­ed the assas­si­na­tion of inves­tiga­tive reporter Gau­ri Lankesh. We also not­ed the irony in Pierre Omid­yar evolv­ing into an icon of inves­tiga­tive report­ing by virtue of his launch­ing of The Inter­cept, when he helped elect Naren­dra Modi and helped to install the OUN/B suc­ces­sor orga­ni­za­tions in pow­er in Ukraine. Both regimes have man­i­fest­ed lethal hos­til­i­ty to inves­tiga­tive jour­nal­ists and polit­i­cal activists.

In an update on Lankesh’s killing, we note that her mur­der occurs in the con­text of unprece­dent­ed pres­sure on, and itim­i­da­tion of, the media by the Hin­dut­va fas­cist regime of Naren­dra Modi. ” . . . . Since he took office in 2014, Modi has not held a sin­gle news con­fer­ence in India. Among B.J.P. politi­cians, a pop­u­lar term for jour­nal­ists is “pressti­tutes.’ A dis­patch on Indi­an jour­nal­ism last year by the Com­mit­tee to Pro­tect Jour­nal­ists described an unprece­dent­ed cli­mate of self-cen­sor­ship and fear, report­ing, ‘The media is in the worst state India has ever seen.’ . . . . In these cir­cum­stances, Lankesh’s audac­i­ty and integri­ty were all the more notable. And her mur­der has deep­ened the chill. . . . Jig­nesh Mevani, a leg­is­la­tor and an activist from Gujarat, fears that if the B.J.P. is re-elect­ed, its extrem­ist sup­port­ers will be embold­ened. ‘Every year they will kill 10 to 15 of our kind of peo­ple and put 10 to 15 of our kind of peo­ple in jail,’ he told me at a July meet­ing in Ban­ga­lore in Lankesh’s hon­or. ‘So by the time they are in pow­er for a decade, the major faces of the pro­gres­sive civ­il rights move­ments of this coun­try will be gone.’ Lankesh’s mur­der seemed to fit what was by then an unmis­tak­able pat­tern of assas­si­na­tions of intel­lec­tu­als who opposed the fun­da­men­tal­ist-Hin­du ide­ol­o­gy that ani­mates the B.J.P., all of which remained unsolved. Between 2013 and 2015, three reli­gious­ly free­think­ing Indi­an writ­ers and activists were shot dead near their homes by assailants who escaped on motor­cy­cles: the doc­tor Naren­dra Dab­holkar, in Pune; the politi­cian Govind Pansare, in Kol­ha­pur; and the schol­ar M.M. Kalbur­gi, in Dhar­wad. After Kalburgi’s mur­der, scores of Indi­an writ­ers returned their awards from the Nation­al Acad­e­my of Let­ters to protest both the lack of progress in the mur­der inves­ti­ga­tions and the B.J.P.’s silence over ris­ing intol­er­ance, to no effect. There was much anx­ious spec­u­la­tion over who might be the next writer to die. . . .”

(When we dis­cussed Bernie Sanders ally Tul­si Gab­bard, we not­ed that THIS is the sort of activ­i­ty with which she has asso­ci­at­ed her­self. She is very close to the Modi regime and helped arrange the details of Mod­i’s 2015 vis­it to the U.S. While trav­el­ing in India, she net­worked with the RSS milieu.)

After much delay, Hin­dut­va fas­cists have been arrest­ed in con­nec­tion with Lankesh’s killing: ” . . . . in May, the Kar­nata­ka Police’s spe­cial inves­ti­ga­tion team filed a charge sheet against a Hin­dut­va activist named K.T. Naveen Kumar, run­ning to some 650 pages and accus­ing him of crim­i­nal con­spir­a­cy, among oth­er things. Fif­teen more sus­pects have been arrest­ed and charged in the months since then . . . . Accord­ing to the police, foren­sics indi­cat­ed that the gun that killed Lankesh was poten­tial­ly also used in two of the three oth­er unsolved assas­si­na­tions that seemed to fit the same pat­tern. The police sus­pect that the accused are part of an appar­ent­ly name­less, mul­ti­state right-wing assas­si­na­tion net­work with at least 60 mem­bers. Many of the accused have con­nec­tions with a small, secre­tive Hin­dut­va group called the Sanatan Sanstha, mem­bers of which have pre­vi­ous­ly been arrest­ed as sus­pects in four sep­a­rate bomb­ings of pub­lic places. . . . Per­haps the most extra­or­di­nary dis­cov­ery the police have made in their inves­ti­ga­tion of Lankesh’s mur­der is a detailed diary recov­ered from the home of a lead­ing sus­pect. In it were two lists, osten­si­bly of peo­ple the con­spir­a­tors want­ed dead, report­ed­ly includ­ing Veer­ab­hadra Chen­na­mal­la, a lib­er­al-mind­ed Hin­du priest, and K.S. Bha­ga­van, an out­spo­ken­ly athe­ist Shake­speare schol­ar. First on one of the lists was Girish Kar­nad, who is per­haps the great­est liv­ing Kan­na­da play­wright. All have been par­tic­u­lar­ly forth­right in their crit­i­cism of Hin­dut­va. Sec­ond on one list was Lankesh. In the months since she was shot, some of her friends and col­leagues have grown more cau­tious about what they write and say and post to social media, even as this year’s unusu­al­ly fraught and uncer­tain Elec­tion Day approach­es. . . . .”

“Rail­ing Against India’s Right-Wing Nation­al­ism Was a Call­ing. It Was also a Death Sen­tence” by Rol­lo Romig; The New York Times Mag­a­zine; 3/17/2019.

. . . . Polit­i­cal pres­sure on jour­nal­ists is noth­ing new in India, but the cur­rent gov­ern­ment is the first in many years to treat them as an ide­o­log­i­cal ene­my. Since he took office in 2014, Modi has not held a sin­gle news con­fer­ence in India. Among B.J.P. politi­cians, a pop­u­lar term for jour­nal­ists is “pressti­tutes.” A dis­patch on Indi­an jour­nal­ism last year by the Com­mit­tee to Pro­tect Jour­nal­ists described an unprece­dent­ed cli­mate of self-cen­sor­ship and fear, report­ing, “The media is in the worst state India has ever seen.”

In these cir­cum­stances, Lankesh’s audac­i­ty and integri­ty were all the more notable. And her mur­der has deep­ened the chill. The anony­mous author of Humans of Hin­dut­va, a pop­u­lar Face­book page sat­i­riz­ing the reli­gious right wing, abrupt­ly shut it down twice in 2017 after post­ing about receiv­ing death threats (though the page has since returned). “I have no desire to end up like Gau­ri Lankesh,” the author wrote. A young inves­tiga­tive reporter named Aruna Chan­drasekhar told me that Lankesh’s exam­ple had been par­tic­u­lar­ly inspir­ing to Indi­an women free­lance jour­nal­ists, and that when she found her­self feel­ing vul­ner­a­ble while report­ing a sto­ry alone in an unfa­mil­iar place, the thought of Lankesh’s fear­less­ness used to embold­en her. “Gauri’s mur­der shook me,” she said. . . .

. . . . Jig­nesh Mevani, a leg­is­la­tor and an activist from Gujarat, fears that if the B.J.P. is re-elect­ed, its extrem­ist sup­port­ers will be embold­ened. “Every year they will kill 10 to 15 of our kind of peo­ple and put 10 to 15 of our kind of peo­ple in jail,” he told me at a July meet­ing in Ban­ga­lore in Lankesh’s hon­or. “So by the time they are in pow­er for a decade, the major faces of the pro­gres­sive civ­il rights move­ments of this coun­try will be gone.”

Lankesh’s mur­der seemed to fit what was by then an unmis­tak­able pat­tern of assas­si­na­tions of intel­lec­tu­als who opposed the fun­da­men­tal­ist-Hin­du ide­ol­o­gy that ani­mates the B.J.P., all of which remained unsolved. Between 2013 and 2015, three reli­gious­ly free­think­ing Indi­an writ­ers and activists were shot dead near their homes by assailants who escaped on motor­cy­cles: the doc­tor Naren­dra Dab­holkar, in Pune; the politi­cian Govind Pansare, in Kol­ha­pur; and the schol­ar M.M. Kalbur­gi, in Dhar­wad. After Kalburgi’s mur­der, scores of Indi­an writ­ers returned their awards from the Nation­al Acad­e­my of Let­ters to protest both the lack of progress in the mur­der inves­ti­ga­tions and the B.J.P.’s silence over ris­ing intol­er­ance, to no effect. There was much anx­ious spec­u­la­tion over who might be the next writer to die. . . .

. . . . For near­ly half a year after Lankesh’s mur­der, there were no arrests, and near­ly every­one fol­low­ing the case seemed to be resigned to the fact that this would be just anoth­er unsolved assas­si­na­tion. But then, in May, the Kar­nata­ka Police’s spe­cial inves­ti­ga­tion team filed a charge sheet against a Hin­dut­va activist named K.T. Naveen Kumar, run­ning to some 650 pages and accus­ing him of crim­i­nal con­spir­a­cy, among oth­er things. Fif­teen more sus­pects have been arrest­ed and charged in the months since then; all are in jail await­ing tri­al and are expect­ed to plead not guilty. Police are still search­ing for two more.

The accused include a young uten­sil sales­man named Parashu­ram Wagh­mare, who the police say con­fessed to pulling the trig­ger. The police also say that Wagh­mare wasn’t famil­iar with Lankesh when the con­spir­a­tors asked him to kill her, so they showed him YouTube videos of her speech­es to per­suade him to com­mit the mur­der. They gave him 10,000 rupees, or around $150. Mem­bers of a Hin­dut­va group called Sri Ram Sene start­ed a Face­book fund-rais­ing cam­paign to sup­port his fam­i­ly. (The group’s leader, Pramod Mutha­lik, lat­er denied any con­nec­tion to Wagh­mare.)

Accord­ing to the police, foren­sics indi­cat­ed that the gun that killed Lankesh was poten­tial­ly also used in two of the three oth­er unsolved assas­si­na­tions that seemed to fit the same pat­tern. The police sus­pect that the accused are part of an appar­ent­ly name­less, mul­ti­state right-wing assas­si­na­tion net­work with at least 60 mem­bers. Many of the accused have con­nec­tions with a small, secre­tive Hin­dut­va group called the Sanatan Sanstha, mem­bers of which have pre­vi­ous­ly been arrest­ed as sus­pects in four sep­a­rate bomb­ings of pub­lic places. (The cas­es are ongo­ing; two Sanatan Sanstha mem­bers were con­vict­ed of one blast but are out on bail await­ing appeal.)

The more estab­lished Hin­dut­va orga­ni­za­tions, includ­ing the R.S.S. (the Hin­du-nation­al­ist para­mil­i­tary group) and B.J.P., have tried to dis­tance them­selves from such groups and have raised legal com­plaints against those who have tried to con­nect them to vio­lence per­pe­trat­ed by the Hin­dut­va fringe. In Feb­ru­ary, a mag­is­trate ruled that Rahul Gand­hi, the pres­i­dent of the Con­gress Par­ty, would stand tri­al for defama­tion for imply­ing a link between the R.S.S. and Lankesh’s mur­der.

Late one night I met with N.P. Amruthesh, the lawyer for four of the accused men, who is him­self a proud fol­low­er of the Sanatan Sanstha. An affa­ble man, seem­ing­ly indif­fer­ent to appear­ances, he wore a worn orange dhoti and white shirt with a blue ink stain bil­low­ing out beneath the pock­et. While we spoke, a news seg­ment about Lankesh’s case appeared on his TV: The R.S.S., it was report­ed, had issued a state­ment say­ing that the lat­est man arrest­ed, Mohan Nayak, who is not rep­re­sent­ed by Amruthesh, was not a mem­ber of the orga­ni­za­tion. Amruthesh laughed. “In my opin­ion, per­son­al opin­ion, that is not cor­rect,” he said. “When any per­son is work­ing for Hin­dut­va, it is your duty to give pro­tec­tion to that per­son. ... They’re claim­ing that he’s not our mem­ber, but I came to know that he always goes to R.S.S. activ­i­ties and every­thing. These orga­ni­za­tions, they don’t want to take the respon­si­bil­i­ty.” Such dis­avowals, he said, were bad for morale.

Naren­dra Modi, mean­while, has kept his silence. He has nev­er pub­licly men­tioned Lankesh’s name or referred to her case. “Why should Prime Min­is­ter Modi react?” Mutha­lik, the Sri Ram Sene leader, said in a pub­lic speech. “Do you expect Modi to respond every time a dog dies in Kar­nata­ka?”

Per­haps the most extra­or­di­nary dis­cov­ery the police have made in their inves­ti­ga­tion of Lankesh’s mur­der is a detailed diary recov­ered from the home of a lead­ing sus­pect. In it were two lists, osten­si­bly of peo­ple the con­spir­a­tors want­ed dead, report­ed­ly includ­ing Veer­ab­hadra Chen­na­mal­la, a lib­er­al-mind­ed Hin­du priest, and K.S. Bha­ga­van, an out­spo­ken­ly athe­ist Shake­speare schol­ar. First on one of the lists was Girish Kar­nad, who is per­haps the great­est liv­ing Kan­na­da play­wright. All have been par­tic­u­lar­ly forth­right in their crit­i­cism of Hin­dut­va.

Sec­ond on one list was Lankesh. In the months since she was shot, some of her friends and col­leagues have grown more cau­tious about what they write and say and post to social media, even as this year’s unusu­al­ly fraught and uncer­tain Elec­tion Day approach­es. . . . .

 

 

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