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DEATH OF A JOURNALIST

Saturday, 23 February 2013 06:25 Written by 

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Congress leader LR Shivarame Gowda is the prime suspect in the murder of a lawyer and fearless reporter. Taking up his defence angers the legal fraternity

 

 

The murder case I fought for DCP Somashekar, accused of arrogance and high-handedness, was extensively covered in the media. Before that, I had represented the Gulbarga district police chief Srivastava in the Kamalakar lock-up death case, and got him released on bail. The newspapers had carried reports about that case, too.

 

Along with the Somashekar case (see Talk Issue 8), I had handled the curious Paduvara-halli twin murder case in a Mysore court. I had provided much fodder for the newspapers for two years. Many of my colleagues would say: “Hanumantharaya, you are getting a lot of publicity.”

 

They were probably jealous. But I shrugged it off.

 

Close on the heels of these cases, in 1992, another controversial case landed on my table. It was the Kanchanahalli Gangadharamurthy murder case. Gangadharamurthy was a lawyer who used to write for the Kannada weekly Lankesh Pathrike.

 

When he was murdered, my junior Prof B Basavaraju urged me to take up the case to defend the main accused, LR Shivarame Gowda, a Congress leader. I came to know that Basavaraju and Shivarame Gowda were close friends.

 

The case had social and political dimensions. Lawyers’ associations, academics, and politicians like HD Deve Gowda had condemned the murder. I was hesitating to take up the case, but Basavaraju said, “You must fight the case for my sake. Please don’t refuse.” I gave in.

 

Gangadharamurthy had been socially active. Apart from practicing law in the courts of Nagamangala and Mandya, he used to take part in protests against injustice, expose scams through his articles. He had earned the enmity of Shivarame Gowda and his maternal uncle Shivanna.

 

On September 23, 1992, Gangadharamuthy left home on his motorbike at 8.45 am. He was hurrying as he had received an emergency call. His wife Nagamma, who saw him off at the door, became anxious when she saw some of his adversaries, including one Lokesh, following him on their scooters.

 

After a while, a man called Govindachari came running to her to say, “Your husband has been killed…” On hearing this, Nagamma fainted. Her elder brother Rudrachari lodged a complaint at the Bellur police station. The circle inspector in Nagamangala then was C Basavaraju, and the superintendent of police for Mandya district was one Mahapatra.

 

Basavaraju took me to the five-star Taj Hotel on MG Road in Bangalore. Shivarame Gowda was hiding there. He admitted he had not been on good terms with Gangadharamurthy, but told me he had nothing to do with his murder. After collecting the details, I returned.

 

The news of my advocacy for Shivarame Gowda spread swiftly. The Bangalore Lawyers’ Association resolved that no lawyer should argue for Shivarame Gowda. Similar resolutions were passed in Nagamangala and Mandya.

 

I was in a fix. I had to fight for Shivarame Gowda only after quitting the Bangalore Lawyers’ Association. I petitioned the High Court questioning the constitutional validity of the resolution.

 

B Viswanatha Shetty, who subsequently became a High Court judge, was my lawyer. The High Court stayed the resolution. Armed with the stay order, I was ready to go to the Mandya to argue Shivarame Gowda’s case.

 

While I was shaving in the morning, just before leaving for Mandya, the famous owner-editor of Lankesh Patrike,

 

P Lankesh, called me. He did not mention the case directly, but said: “Hanumantharaya, truth is complex. Humanity is above the Constitution, law, and the courts. The human being is central. So men change the Constitution and the law. I came to know that you are appearing for Shivarame Gowda. The decision is yours. But think before taking a call. Please come to my office when you are free.” And he disconnected the phone.

 

I thought about the difference between Lankesh’s approach and the resolution passed by the lawyers, whose profession it is to uphold the law. While Lankesh said it was my right to take a decision, the lawyers association had appropriated that right to itself. I was impressed by Lankesh, who preferred to uphold individual freedom. The shaving cream on my chin had dried up. I lathered my face again and finished shaving.

 

There was a condolence meeting for Gangadharamurthy. I learnt Lankesh, whom I called ‘mesthru’ (teacher), besides politicians G Made Gowda, Deve Gowda, Atmananda, and HT Krishnappa paid tribute to the journalist. In addition to becoming emotional at the meeting, Devegowda had held a picture of Ganagdharamurthy on his head during the procession. It is a different matter that the same Devegowda, when he became the chief minister later, had Shivarame Gowda as one of his cohorts.

 

When Basavaraju and I went to the Mandya court together, a group of lawyers stopped and cordoned us off. KC Shankare Gowda, a senior politician from Mandya, stood by us. He had made a name as an honest politician, and his support gave me great strength.

 

Achar Krishnamurthy, who claimed to be the president of the Mandya Lawyers’ Association, told us, “Answer our questions before entering the court premises. Otherwise, we won’t allow you in.” I agreed.

 

We walked towards the office of the lawyers’ association which was adjacent to the court and the office of the district’s deputy commissioner (DC).

 

When we were crossing the DC’s office, I saw something strange. Thousands of farmers had laid siege to the office to press the government to meet their demands. The farmers had locked up the officials inside and tied huge bulls to the windows. The bulls were menacing with their sharp horns and loud snorting.

 

A lawyer called Keshavamurthy was delivering a speech through a loud speaker. He was saying, “Lawyers have come from Bangalore to fight for murderer Shivarame Gowda. Gangadharamurthy was a friend of farmers, and we must not allow anybody to protect his killers. We must send back these two lawyers to Bangalore…”

 

The farmers, relaxing in the shade of the trees, erupted and started advancing towards us. I was really terrified. I looked at Shankare Gowda, and he put his hand on my shoulder. The police came rushing to protect us. The farmers wanted to attack us. Lawyer Srinivas, who was also an office bearer of the Raitha Sangha (farmers’ association), pacified them by saying, “We are taking them to question them. Please maintain calm.”

 

The lawyers rained questions on us with raised voices. They said we must answer their queries keeping in mind that Gangadharamurthy was also a lawyer.

 

I said, “This is a sensitive issue. I am also sad at the murder of Gangadharamurthy, but how fair is it to decide who the culprit is without hearing the case? The decision must only be taken in court…”

 

Enraged by my words, the lawyers tried to attack us. The policemen shielded me and took me to a safe place. But Basavaraju was assaulted. The lawyers tore a sleeve off his black coat. The police then saved him too.

 

Read 12 times Last modified on Saturday, 23 February 2013 08:26

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