Gauri Lankesh’s lawyer B.T. Venkatesh is clear that the killing was a sinister and pre-planned act by Hindu terror units and had nothing to do with all the defamation cases filed against her.
Exactly two years and five days after the fatal shooting of writer M.M. Kalburgi, the dastardly killing of journalist and editor Gauri Lankesh yesterday is being seen as a clear indication that Hindutva forces are still at work, chillingly picking out the targets on their list of intellectuals and writers inimical to them.
While a number of theories have sprung up on the motives for the killing, including her conviction in a defamation case filed by Dharwad’s BJP MP, Prahlaad Joshi and a BJP leader Umesh Dushi in November 2016, her lawyer B.T. Venkatesh is clear that the killing was a sinister and pre-planned act by Hindu terror units.
“Let us say it loud and clear. Hindu terror units killed Gauri Lankesh. She opposed the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the BJP and these Hindutva forces and this killing is the silencing of that voice against hate politics. It had nothing to do with all the defamation cases filed against her”, said advocate Venkatesh.
Talking to the Hoot a day after the killing, he said Lankesh had umpteen number of cases across the state. “I have been defending her in a number of these cases. This case was a small one in Hubbali and we appealed within 30 days and the sentence was suspended”, he said.
“This was a very systematically organised and planned assassination that was carried out in an identical manner to the killing of professor Kalburgi”, he said, adding that Hindutva terror units had recruited people and organised sleeper cells to carry out their killings.
“Even professor Kalburgi had something like 20 defamation cases against him before he was killed”
“They knew her routine – that she would put the paper to bed on Tuesday and on Wednesday, she would go to her farm. Yes, she did get threats but she has been getting threats since 2004, when she took up the Idgah Maidan case and opposed the withdrawal of Uma Bharti from the case (relating to violence in Hubli over the hoisting of the national flag in Idgah Maidan in 1994).
Venkatesh added that conviction was also pretty common in a great many defamation cases and felt that it was inconsequential. “Anyone who tries to focus on the defamation cases as a possible motive for her killing must be joking. As a journalist, you should know that defamation cases are so common,” he said.
In fact, even professor Kalburgi had something like 20 defamation cases against him and before he was killed, he had a conversation with Venkatesh about how difficult it was to travel across the state to defend himself.
“Hindutva forces use every ploy, including the courts. They know that fighting multiple cases can be exhausting, with time taken away from other work to handle these cases. They have lawyers everywhere, at least five lawyers in every taluka who work for free. Whereas we don’t even have lawyers to fight our cases. They (right-wing forces) follow simple rules and have a one-point programme of hatred. But we are anarchic and have multiple discussions, we don’t have a common discourse and disagree on how to fight these forces,” he said.
Gauri Lankesh, who travelled across the length and breadth of Karnataka for her cases, turned the resultant harassment of court proceedings into an opportunity. “Every hearing used to be a chance for her to hold a meeting outside the court. She used it to the hilt, stating her views loud and clear. She wrote strongly and she spoke forcefully in English and in Kannada. Wherever there was communal violence against Muslims, against Dalits or hatred being spread, she would go there”
Concurring with Venkatesh’s opinion, her friend and colleague Shiv Sundar told the Hoot that Gauri had at least 15 defamation cases going on. This killing was part of the targeted violence that right-wing forces had unleashed all over Karnataka, especially in coastal Karnataka, he felt.
While Gauri Lankesh had been facing threats for her outspoken views for several years now, the immediate trigger for the killing was definitely the racheting up of an already communally vitiated atmosphere after the visit of BJP President Amit Shah in Karnataka last month, he felt. On September 5, the BJP persisted with holding a Mangaluru Chalo rally despite the state government’s refusal of permission to it.
Gauri Lankesh had been a strident critic of the bike rally, fearing an escalation in violence in the coastal areas of the state. As it is, the BJP is preparing for elections in Karnataka and the instances of communal violence had seen a marked increased over the last two years. Her newspaper had documented the killings.
Another possible trigger was that she spoke and wrote extensively on the Basavanna tradition of anti-casteism, rationality and secularism. She was critical when prominent members of the community had shifted allegiance to the BJP. “She faced threats but she was impetuous and would not be cowed down”, Shivsundar said, adding that close friends had asked her to be cautious and mute her views but that was simply not in her nature.
Asked if her work on the surrender and rehabilitation of Maoists and whether there was a ‘naxalite’ angle to the killing, as alleged by a prominent English language television channel, Venkatesh felt that such conjectures only served to destabilise the investigation. “We need to state this loud and clear: it is the work of Hindutva terror units. Gauri knew this. She never spoke any other language,” he reiterated.
Hindutva terror in Karnataka
In 2015, after the killing of Kalburgi, Gauri Lankesh spoke to this writer about the ‘hit list’ of those rationalists who were seen as a threat by Hindutva forces. She said: “We’ve made a list based on how many times the Hindutva groups spew venom on us and how strongly. First on the list is writer and rationalist K.S. Bhagwan, then writer Yogesh Master who has been attacked for his fictional work, and then another writer, Banjagere Jayaprakash.”
Gauri Lankesh had then said that she was fourth on the list.
While Hndutva terror groups operate in every part of the country, they have managed to grow strong roots in Karnataka, especially coastal Karnataka. Gauri Lankesh travelled extensively in Mangalore, infamous as Hindutva’s laboratory. The anti-communal front she had formed along with others, the Karnataka Komu Souharda Vedikehad grown into a major force, Venkatesh said, adding that Gauri Lankesh was an institution by herself. “Otherwise, they would not have targeted her.” “She went on the offensive, was very vocal and could reach people. She spoke and wrote in Kannada and English and she had the legacy of her father, one of the finest journalists of Karnataka”, he said.
“She received a lot of hate mail and had been threatened a number of times”, said Venkatesh, adding that the statement of Bengaluru’s police commissioner T. Suneel Kumar was not entirely correct. “She did not seek police protection, that was not her nature”, Venkatesh said.
Gauri firmly believed that she lived in a free country and that she had a constitutional right to speak freely and a constitutional guarantee that her life was precious and would be protected.
It is this confidence she had in a constitutional pledge for all citizens of India that the state is today called upon to uphold.
Geeta Seshu is a independent journalist based in Mumbai and contributing editor of the Hoot.
This article was originally published on The Hoot.