Protests erupt over Lankesh killing; Karanataka sets up SIT

The murder of journalist and social activist Gauri Lankesh in Bengaluru on Tuesday has unleashed outrage across the country, while the Karnataka government has set up a Special Investigation Team (SIT) headed by Inspector General of Police (Intelligence) B K Singh to probe the killing.

While the cops remained clueless about the perpetrators, the media fraternity and members of society reacted with horror and staged protests and candle-light vigils in Bengaluru, Delhi, Mumbai and several other cities, while leaders across party lines condemned the murder.

"Her killing is an ominous portent for dissent in democracy and a brutal assault on the freedom of the press," the Editors Guild of India said in a statement.

Motorcycle-borne assailants pumped bullets into 55-year-old Lankesh as she got out of her car after reaching her home. She was known for her liberal outlook and forthright views against Hindutva politics.

The body of Gauri was buried with police honours on Wednesday evening. With tears in their eyes and braving the rain, a large number of people thronged the TR Mill crematorium in Bengaluru to pay their last respects to the outspoken journalist.

As the body was laid to rest in the Lingayat burial ground in the crematorium, slogans like Gauri Lankesh amar rahe and Gauri Lankesh zindabad rent the air.

In Mumbai, a large number of people assembled at the sea-facing amphitheatre near the Carter Road Promenade in Bandra, protesting the murder which they said was an attempt to silence dissent. "You cannot silence the truth by silencing voices of dissent," said activist Geeta Menon. "How many voices can you silence?"

Holding placards and chanting slogans like "We want azaadi from Hindutva and RSS," the activists slammed the Narendra Modi-led government at the Centre for failing to punish the alleged murderers of rationalists like Govind Pansare and author M M Kalburgi, which they said had encouraged Hindutva fanatics to kill those who oppose their ideology.

'Open to CBI probe'
The killing sent shock waves in poll-bound Karnataka. Announcing the SIT, chief minister Siddaramaiah also said his government had an "open mind" to involving the Central Bureau of Investigation, which the slain journalist's family has demanded.

Siddaramaiah said there were four CCTV cameras installed at Gauri's house, and one of them had caught the image of a person wearing a helmet entering the gate and firing at her, after which she collapsed two to three feet away.

Calling the murder of the journalist an "organised crime", the chief minister also instructed the police to identify and give protection to free thinkers and those involved in the Left movement.

Briefing reporters after chairing a meeting of senior police officials with home minister Ramalinga Reddy to take stock of the investigation, Siddaramaiah said he had told the police that the case should be taken "very seriously".  

No deadline has been fixed for the SIT, but it has been asked to take up the work immediately, said Siddaramaiah, who heads a Congress government.

Gauri's murder comes just days after the second anniversary of the killing of noted Kannada writer and rationalist Dr M M Kalburgi (77), who fell to bullets fired by two unidentified men at his residence at Dharwad in north Karnataka on 30 August 2015.