Following a probe that lasted more than two-and-a-half-years, the Special Investigation Team (SIT) investigating the murder of activist-journalist Gauri Lankesh submitted their final charge sheet in May 2020.
Gauri Lankesh was shot dead in front of her house in West Bengaluru on 5 September 2017.
Even though the case is ready for trial, one aspect of the investigation remains unsolved – the pistol used to kill her. The investigation had revealed that a 7.65mm country-made pistol was used to murder Gauri Lankesh. However, there was no sign of the weapon during the investigation.
In 2019, SIT got the custody of Sharad Kalaskar, the man who disposed of the weapon. He told the team that he threw the pistol in Maharashtra’s Vasai Lake. A dredging agency was roped in find this weapon from the creek. However, after months of dredging, the SIT has decided to give up on the search and proceed with the trial.
The Weapon Connects Three Murders
This untraced country-made pistol is a crucial piece of evidence to prove a larger conspiracy to target rationalists, as it is the link between the murders of Gauri Lankesh, MM Kalburgi and Govind Pansare.
The four bullet slugs and cartridges recovered from Gauri Lankesh’s house, on the night of the murder, were sent for forensic analysis within a day. To verify a hunch, the SIT asked the forensic team to compare the slugs and cartridges with that of Kalburgi and Pansare murder cases.
“Every weapon leaves a unique mark on the bullets. For example, a mark created by the groove or the firing pin of the weapon. The same mark can be found on every bullet fired from the weapon,” explained an SIT officer.
The forensic tests proved that the same weapon was used to murder Kalburgi, Pansare and Lankesh.
The Journey of the Weapon
Ten days after Gauri Lankesh was shot dead, one of the accused, Sudhanva Gondhalekar travelled to Bengaluru and collected the murder weapon from Suresh, another accused in the case, who allegedly harboured the hitmen at a rented house in Seegehalli.
Gondhalekar handed over this weapon to Kalaskar. After key members of the gang that killed Gauri Lankesh were arrested, in May 2018, Kalaskar was asked to dispose of the weapon.
“We also decided to remove the slide and barrels of these three pistols and dispose of them. The remaining parts could be used in making other weapons. Likewise, I selected the three pistols, removed the slide and barrels, and put them in a bag. Vaibhav Raut and I took off in Raut’s car and threw these parts into a river from a bridge on the Mumbai — Nashik highway on 23 July 2018, at about 9:00 pm. The remaining parts of these weapons, I gave to Vaibhav Raut who kept him at his house in Nallasopara,” read Kalaskar’s confession statement.
Trial Without the Weapon
A senior SIT official said that they had made all the attempts to recover the pistol, but it was a difficult task. Since Kalaskar threw the pistol in the creek, there have been three strong monsoons, and it was like a search for a needle in a haystack, said the officer.
“Since it was connected to three different murders, Karnataka police, Maharashtra police and the CBI jointly attempted to recover the weapon. But at some point, you need to stop. We believe we have enough evidence to ensure conviction in this case, even without the weapon,” he said.