The video of Gauri Lankesh’s speech that her assassins used to whip up hate | Azad Times

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Investigators say that the trigger for the killers to identify Gauri as a target was not only her body of journalistic work, but also this video clip from a speech discussing Hinduism.

In 2016, Amol Kale, a member of the Hindu fundamentalist group Hindu Janajagruti Samiti, forwarded a video of a woman speaking at a public forum in Mangaluru to other members of the group. The woman, in a cream kurta with maroon motifs on it, was Gauri Lankesh, a fiery journalist from Karnataka. In the video, Gauri is seen questioning the Hindu Jagarana Vedike, a fundamentalist group, over an attack. "The Hindu Jagarana Vedike claims to have done this to protect Hindu culture and Hindu dharma. I ask them, what is your Hindu dharma? Who fostered Hindu religion?” she asked. "This is a religion without a father or mother. There is no good scripture in this. Until the British came here and named it, there was no name for it. Is this even a religion?" she said to cheers from the listening audience.

Gauri Lankesh made this speech in August 2012, over five years before she was gunned down outside her residence in Bengaluru. Investigators in the journalist’s murder case now say this was a crucial part of the plot to kill her — the murderers and their conspirators had convinced themselves that this speech was the reason they wanted to kill Gauri. This reporter has accessed the video — which had been taken down from YouTube and Facebook — that shows a 50-year-old Gauri making a strong case against a communal attack. “It was taken out of context by the killers,” says an activist who has worked closely with Gauri, and was present at the event where she made the speech. 

Gauri Lankesh made this speech in the aftermath of an infamous attack in Mangaluru where members of the Hindu Jagarana Vedike barged into a homestay and assaulted a group of friends celebrating a birthday. Television channels telecast footage of a group of ‘vigilantes’ forcibly entering a room and attacking some of the people inside. 

In her speech, Gauri’s criticism of Hinduism stems from her belief that women are institutionally discriminated against under Hinduism. "It is a system where a few are venerated and the rest are considered inferior. The women in particular are considered second class… We don’t need this religion. We have the Constitution and that is our religion," she said in the speech. 

According to one of the investigators, who asked to remain anonymous, the police found the video of this speech on the cell phone of one of the conspirators. It showed a five-minute clip of a half-hour speech by Gauri Lankesh. The makers of the video put an overlay at the beginning of the video which read: Why I hate secularism in India.

According to the chargesheet filed by the investigating police, Amol Kale, the alleged mastermind of the murder, used this video to mobilise his co-conspirators, including the man who eventually shot Gauri — Parashuram Waghmore. As reported by TNM earlier, Amol showed this video clip to the secret group he had put together to ‘save Hindu dharma’, more than a year before Gauri was killed. He told the group that she must be killed for her anti-Hindu views. “If she is allowed to talk like this, she will cause bad opinions to be formed about Hinduism in society,” Amol had said as per the chargesheet in the case.

Part 1: Why Gauri Lankesh was assassinated: The story of an indoctrinated engineer

TNM met a close friend of Parashuram Waghmore who claimed that he was not aware of Gauri Lankesh in the years leading up to the murder. Waghmore, a college dropout from Sindagi in Vijayapura district, is accused of firing the bullet that killed Gauri Lankesh. “I do not think he knew who Gauri Lankesh was and what she wrote about,” the friend tells TNM requesting anonymity.

Forbidden Stories, a Paris-based non-profit newsroom, found through a forensic analysis that the video was spread widely across Indian far-right groups. The Postcard News, a website accused of spreading fake news to further a communal agenda, published an article calling her a “known Hindu hater”, the contentious video attached. The article was also shared by Mahesh Vikram Hegde and Vivek Shetty, the co-founders of Postcard.

“The video contributed to an intense and vitriolic character assassination that painted her as anti-Hindu well before the plan to assassinate her had been hatched,” Forbidden Stories says. The analysis was conducted in partnership with researchers at Princeton’s Digital Witness Lab.

The researchers had used open-source tools to find evidence of eight different YouTube links that were shared widely on Facebook, including three that had more than 100 million interactions (likes, shares, and comments). Forbidden Stories pointed out that in 2014, the official page for the BJP in Karnataka shared the video with a warning: “The next time we hear such speeches we should give a fitting legal reply.”

“The BJP Karnataka post sharing the earliest YouTube video received little engagement from Facebook users but the fact that the video made it there two years after it was originally uploaded speaks to its reach,” Surya Mattu and Micha Gorelick, researchers at Digital Witness Lab, tells Forbidden Stories.

Part 2: How Gauri Lankesh was shot dead: The story of college dropout Parashuram Waghmore

According to activists who worked with Gauri Lankesh, the speech made in Mangaluru was taken out of context. “It was discussing the emergence of Hinduism and was not targeting the religion itself. It was aimed at Hindutva followers who had attacked people celebrating a birthday in a homestay,” says KL Ashok, general secretary of the Karnataka Forum for Communal Harmony. 

Gauri Lankesh was a fiery journalist based out of Bengaluru who started the Kannada newspaper Gauri Lankesh Patrike, following in her father P Lankesh's footsteps. Gauri left behind a promising career in English journalism and mostly wrote in Kannada. Though her paper only had a circulation of around 10,000, Gauri Lankesh's political activism and defence of minority rights made her a popular figure in Karnataka.

KL Ashok was part of the group of activists who founded the forum for communal harmony, Karnataka's first major coalition against Hindutva in the early 2000s. He was also the organiser of the event where Gauri made the speech about Hinduism. The event was held on August 4, 2012 in Mangaluru, days after the homestay attack. “When the speech is viewed without mentioning that context, it appears as if she is targeting Hinduism,” he says.

“The video clip showed only the part where she says Hindu religion does not have a father or mother…She was asking the attackers, (in the homestay attack) whether religion asked them to beat people up,” Ashok says.

Investigating officers say that the video appeared to have influenced the killers’ decision to target Gauri, many of whom were also involved in the murders of three other prominent thinkers — Narendra Dabholkar, Govind Pansare, and MM Kalburgi. 

This is corroborated by the contents of a diary recovered from the home of Amol Kale. The diary contained two lists, ostensibly of people the conspirators wanted dead. Gauri’s name was second on one of the lists which had the names of prominent personalities including the rationalist KS Bhagwan, playwright Girish Karnad, poet Chandrashekar Patil or Champa, and priest Veerabhadra Chennamalla Swamiji of the Nidumamidi math, all of whom were outspoken in their criticism of Hindutva. 

But it was Gauri Lankesh who was targeted for murder before the others on the list, and the group was planning to target rationalist KS Bhagwan in 2018, when the investigating police arrested them. 

The trial in the murder case began in the City and Civil Sessions court in Bengaluru in July 2022. The court has examined more than 30 of the 200 witnesses in the case including a forensic expert. The expert corroborated that DNA of tissues found on a toothbrush from a hideout used by the accused killers matched with the DNA of the shooter.

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