Gauri murder case awaits closure

Gauri murder case awaits closure

The journalist-activist was shot dead three years ago. Nineteen men are in jail, following a massive, never-before manhunt

Three years after activist-journalist Gauri Lankesh was shot dead in Bengaluru, police await the conviction of 19 men now in jail.

The special investigation team assigned the case filed the final charge sheet in May this year.

In 2017, on September 5, journalist-activist Gauri Lankesh was gunned down outside her house in Bengaluru, sending shockwaves across the country.

A senior officer who investigated the Gauri murder says it was perhaps the toughest case ever handled by the Karnataka police.

“It was a blind case and we had no leads. We didn’t have a clue about the motive,” he says. The investigators read through Gauri’s writings of five years to gain insights into the case.

“She was a vocal journalist and we had to read her writing to understand her. There was speculation that the Naxalites were involved and also that her father’s property was in dispute. We had to rule all those motives out,” he says. 

The police confronted a new set of challenges after the suspects were caught. “They wouldn’t disclose anything and spoke only in Hindi, even though they were from different states. They never used cell phones and only told us the names of the one just above them in the hierarchy. They would give false descriptions and names. We used only basic interrogation techniques, and the suspects never gave in to that,” he says. 

High tech tools

The special investigation team used gait analysis to identify the killer. “Every walk is unique,” he says. The team also used a ‘touch DNA’ technique to analyse a hair follicle.

“We used artificial intelligence to extract images of suspected persons and vehicles. We compared footage obtained from 200 TB of video data from the CCTV cameras installed on the streets by the traffic police,” the officer says.

The ballistic analysis established that the pistol used to murder Gauri was the same used to murder Kalburgi in Dharwad.

The investigators travelled through Karnataka, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand, Delhi and Goa to crack the case.

Status

The officer says that the first arrest was made after six months after the murder, but the final charge sheet was filed in May this year.

“It took us two years, eight months to nab 19 culprits, who are now in judicial custody. Nobody has got bail so far. They have approached the high court and even tried to destroy evidence several times,” says the officer.  

How siblings saw her

Gauri’s siblings Kavitha Lankesh and Indrajit Lankesh, both filmmakers, recall her fearless life.

She faced 80 cases: Kavitha Lankesh

Gauri was known for her outspokenness and bold writing. And she stood up against any kind of exploitation or corruption. Journalists and newspapers are meant to criticise governments and expose their wrongdoings, and not function as a pamphlet for the government. Gauri wrote without fear and had more than 80 cases against her when she died. She would jokingly tell me she was on the hit list of many people for her views.  The police have built up a foolproof case. They got nothing for three months, and I almost gave up hope. But things slowly started to move. They have explored every aspect without any bias. A woman and a journalist being murdered in cold blood shocked everybody. Gauri stood for the minorities, the LGBT community, women and children. A lot of people were affected by her death.

My second mother: Indrajit

As siblings, we were seven years apart. When I was in school, Gauri was in college. My father was a lecturer and made bridge films but they didn’t do well at the box office. We lived in an asbestos-roof house in Gandhi Bazaar. It used to be hot in summer and we would sleep out on the terrace. Things got tougher when my father stopped working. My mother had to start a sari business to make ends meet. My father’s literary circles were big and he was busy and my mother was busy with her business. It was Gauri who took care of Kavitha and me. She would help me with my homework and was home when I returned from school.  I remember a memorable trip to Delhi, where Gauri was working for a newsmagazine after completing her master’s degree. I played snooker for the state and was taking part in a tournament. Gauri took me around on her Bajaj scooter and showed me Parliament House and a bird sanctuary. Over the years, she took up many causes. She had ideological differences with people, but would get back and talk to them as if nothing had happened. She believed she didn’t have enemies.

In Bengaluru jail

Parshuram Waghmare, the man who allegedly pulled the trigger on Gauri, was arrested nine months after the murder. He is lodged in Parappana Agrahara jail in Bengaluru. On September 5, 2017, three assailants followed her from her office in Basavanagudi to her house in Rajarajeshwari Nagar. Waghmare pumped bullets into her, and she died on the spot. Police say they analysed footage from cameras all along the way, stored on 2,400 DVRs (digital video recorders), before they found crucial leads.