BENGALURU: Gauri Lankesh, a senior journalist, activist and anti-establishment voice, was shot dead outside her home in Bengaluru last night by attackers who fired seven times at close range.
The 55-year-old editor, renowned for speaking her mind, had stepped out of her car and opened the gates when the attackers fired at her. Four bullets hit her, one in the forehead. Police suspect the role of hired killers and believe they may have been caught on CCTV when they possibly recced the spot.
Ms Lankesh was found lying on her porch by neighbours who had first mistaken the gunshots for firecrackers. It was around 8 pm and many of them were having dinner when the shots rang out. Some say they heard a two-wheeler around the same time.
"A total of seven bullets were fired out of which four missed the target and hit the wall of the house. Three bullets had hit her -- two in her chest area and one in the forehead," Bengaluru Police Commissioner T Suneel Kumar said.
The police have retrieved the digital video recorder from the two CCTVs Ms Lankesh installed for safety outside her home, which is flanked by two vacant plots.
The attackers either followed Ms Lankesh on her way home from work or were hiding nearby, waiting for her to return. The journalist had been living alone for some time. The police say they have traced her route home and expect clues from CCTVs on the way.
Karnataka Law Minister TB Jayachandra has agreed that there are similarities with the 2015 murder of renowned scholar MM Kalburgi, who was shot dead by two bikers at his doorstep in Dharwad, around 400 km from Bengaluru. The men knocked on his door and when the 77-year-old Sahitya Akademi award winner opened it, shot him twice at point blank range. The two-year-old murder is yet to be solved. The links between the two murders cannot be ruled out, said Mr Jayachandra.
There were two more similar killings in Maharashtra, that of Leftist thinker Govind Pansare in 2015 and rationalist and anti-superstition activist Narendra Dabholkar in 2013.
Ms Lankesh's killing has triggered an outpouring of grief and anger among journalists, activists and several prominent voices who described it an attempt to silence "those who believe in democracy and decency". Many protest meetings have been organized today across the country.
"Shocking and blood curdling to hear about the murder of Gauri Lankesh. These monstrous criminals must be nailed n dealt with sternly," tweeted Biocon's chairman Kiran Mazumdar Shaw.
"Grace. Integrity. Courage. The work will continue," her ex-husband and senior journalist Chidananda Rajaghatta wrote in a moving tribute on Facebook.
Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah said three police teams have been formed to investigate the murder.
Ms Lankesh was the older daughter of P Lankesh - a man who brought in a new brand of Kannada journalism. She followed in his footsteps, running her own Kannada paper with views that were never careful or circumspect. She was part of a group that worked for communal harmony. Her views were considered Leftist and anti-Hindutva.
She weathered fierce opposition and criticism of her journalism. In November 2016, she had been found guilty of defamation in a case involving BJP MP Prahlad Joshi and had been sentenced to six months in jail. She was out on bail.