Marking three long years since three bullets shot down a firebrand legacy called Gauri.
Anna Abraham, Founding Editor
Illustration by Suryansh Deo Srivastava
To the untrained eye, Gauri Lankesh may not seem special. She came from a family of journalists and would easily fit the upper-class privileged trope. Yet appearances are deceiving and Lankesh was different. The teen angst of outspokenness soon turned into a force to be reckoned with. She spoke with passion about issues of communal politics, the freedom of the press, gender and the Dalit movement. Gauri was a fighter by hobby, and journalist by profession. Dissent may as well be her name. She spoke freely and unabashedly. Although fierce, arguments with her always provided an atmosphere of respect and patience. She would always listen.
"What are we going to fight over today?" a journalist friend of Gauri Lankesh would usually ask her whenever she made an early morning call to him. "What's your grudge?"
In her work, she spoke of the culture of her home, Bengaluru. She traced the liberation felt in Bengaluru during the 90s. Right from 50 cc bikes to the pub culture, women were at the fore of society, she said. Even as cities like Hyderabad were famed for their safety, she found her Hyderabadi friends shocked at the numbers of women in ‘daring’ clothes dancing a tad tipsy at the pubs of Bengaluru. Women were a big part of the night culture in Bengaluru. When the music stopped they needn’t worry about harassment on their way home.
Yet this is no longer true.
Her home, once a haven for the ‘second gender’ was now a victim of majoritarianism and Hindutva. Women didn’t find the same comfort in the dark of the night. She wasn’t sure of what transpired to make it so, but she believed the saffronisation of her dear city and Karnataka itself is a key suspect in the case.
Gauri’s own murder was in the wee hours of the night. She seemingly prophesied her own killing.
Many attribute her murder to her critical take on the BJP. On more than one occasion she said that she’d one day be shot for the things she said. Yet her own prophecy did nothing to deter her. The majoritarian right-wing Hindutva propaganda spread by the party would be the death of India as she knew it and salvaging it would involve writing – ardently and unapologetically. She seemed quite willing to put the life of democracy and freedom of speech and expression in Karnataka before her own. She said what was on her mind.
“We can’t be so dead. It is human to express and react. What we feel impulsively is usually our most honest response.”
She even criticised the media in her own state.
In 2008, a story of 3 Muslim men’s involvement in vehicle theft was manipulated to fit a narrative of terrorism, ‘jihad’ and the ever-persistent Islamophobia. ‘Unnamed reliable police sources’ were repeatedly quoted with some media houses even claiming that the men were connected to groups like Lashkar-e-Toiba and Bin Laden himself. If this was not enough, they said the men were conducting arms training in the forest and hoisting Pakistani flags with the utmost patriotism. Soon they were distributing arms to various ‘sleeper cells’ across the city. Up next in the series of unfathomable events, they were in possession of RDX and AK-47s and parading town recruiting thousands in their infamous terrorist organisation. Of course, their big finale was the vehicle theft in question. A real cliff-hanger.
Lankesh had had enough.
She thrashed the media for its biased reportage and accused the ‘inefficient police’ of leaking information that triggered a wave of communalism. TRPs and circulation quotas could not be what drove journalism. Leading national papers ran stories claiming the men were engaged in unusual activities – they spoke in low voices and said the namaaz five times a day. Lankesh questioned the ethics of such media houses. Was offering namaaz to be ‘suspicious activity’ in this new Karnataka?
Lankesh also spoke against the ascendance of cultural conservatism and communalism in the political space. The saffronisation of Karnataka was blatant. She believed the compromise of political practices under the guise of religious sensitivity chequered India’s tryst with secularism. This compromise is, what she believed to be, the pathway to a Hindu Nationalist political discourse. Accompanied by the demonisation of Muslims in the media, it paved the way for Hindus to ultimately believe they were a threatened species, furthering the cause of protecting all that is Hindu.
“The Sangh Parivar has always considered Karnataka its gateway to the South. The last time they were in power, the gates were only partially opened to them but a foothold was all they needed. It was more than enough for them to sow their seeds of hatred. Those seeds have sprouted now and with the elections only a few months away, the BJP will no doubt be a reaping a rich harvest.”
A proud member of the Lingayat community in Bengaluru, she fought for minority status for her community. She even argued that the community should not fall under the broad and vague definition of what ‘Hindu’ is. Among other audaciously controversial things, she also was an avid supporter of the Maoist and Naxalite movement.
Despite her questionable leanings, Gauri Lankesh barely posed a threat to the BJP. Her newspaper, the Gauri Lankesh Patrike, barely sold a thousand copies. Her work was popular but only in certain circles. Yet those in the Sangh Parivaar were threatened by Gauri’s propulsion of ‘radical’ secular ideas. Lankesh unrelentingly critiqued the ubiquitous phenomenon of putting religion over the values of democracy, the brunt of which she ultimately bore herself.
Her murder, tragic as it may be, wasn’t for naught - it reshaped Indian dissent. Loud deafening cries hang in the air; they ring in the ears of thousands, as journalists are jailed, activists - murdered and controversial bills - passed. Gauri lives on through these voices. The man who confessed to killing her didn’t even know who he was killing, just that the fate of Hinduism relied on it. Yet it was not the fate of Hinduism he changed, but that of dissent that he helped assassinate and, consequently, re-birth.
Lankesh, G. (2008). Churumuri Blog. Retrieved from: https://churumuri.blog/2008/02/28/how-karnataka-is-becoming-gujarat-of-the-south/
Nagaraj, P. (2017). Scroll. Retrieved from: https://scroll.in/article/849701/gauri-lankesh-1962-2007-journalist-who-raged-like-a-fire-as-she-championed-just-causes
Nandakumar, P. (n.d.). Asianet News. Retrieved from: https://newsable.asianetnews.com/editorial/obituary-gauri-lankesh
Biswas, S. (2017). BBC News. Retrieved from: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-41172115