Who killed Gauri Lankesh and stifled a voice of dissent?

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Gauri-LankeshIt is over a week when senior journalist and activist Gauri Lankesh was shot dead at her house in Rajarajeshwari Nagar in Bengaluru late on September 5 by three assailants but we have no inkling of who killed her. In fact we may never know who killed Gauri Lankesh, but no guesses, we all know why she had been killed. Obviously because she had become an eyesore in the eyes of her opponents and those who were opposed to her ideology.

Gauri was no ordinary person. She was the voice of dissent. She was an idea. She represented all those who dare stand against the authority and might of the State. Indeed her killing is an attempt to stifle that voice- the voice of voiceless. It is also meant to convey a clear message to everyone to stop speaking or else they too would meet the fate of Gauri Lankesh. She was bringing out Gauri Lankesh Patrike. As she followed a particular ideology, she was killed because of her ideas. We do not have evidence of who planned her murder but we have fair evidence concerning those who celebrated and justified her murder.

As the editor of Gauri Lankesh Patrike, she carried forward the legacy of her father P Lankesh, the founder of Lankesh Patrike. Like her father, she chose to write in Kannada and her very name carried a challenge to fundamentalists. Gauri lived a life of ideas and was ironically killed by those professing divergent ideas. Her voice of dissent was indeed heard by those who find an inconvenient voice unacceptable. Coming to role of media, never
before has the Indian media redefined its role from a watchdog to a blind critic of the opposition criticizing the dissenter? The lone voice of dissent had to be silenced and it was her dissent that led to her killing.

The last editorial

We are reproducing her last editorial “In the age of Fake news” written in Kannada and translated in English for the benefit of <Tehelka> readers: “On the occasion of Ganesh Chaturthi a few days ago, a rumour was circulated on social media saying that a Ganesha idol can be installed only on spots decided by the Karnataka government; that an amount of 10 lakh is required to be deposited before such an installation; that permission needs to be obtained from the government for the height of the idol; that for immersion they have to take a route where people from other religions don’t live; and, that no crackers are allowed. When we tried to trace the source of this rumour, we landed on a website called Postcard.news. On August 11, Postcard.news ran a header ‘Taliban Rule in Karnataka’ which carried the fake news regarding the intrusive rules of Karnataka government during Ganesh Chaturthi. What is most shocking and sad is that people accepted it as truth without thinking — with their eyes and ears closed and brains shut off.

Tribute from her ex-husband Senior journalist, Chidanand Rajghatta paid a glorious tribute to Gauri Lankesh which he posted on Facebook which explains what a dedicated person she was. He wrote in his own words “My friend, My first Love: Gauri Lankesh. If Gauri Lankesh read all the tributes and accolades for her, particularly those that refer to soul and afterlife and heaven, she’d have had a good laugh. Well maybe not a laugh, but at least a chuckle. We had decided in our teens that there was enough heaven and hell on earth, and we should just leave God alone — he has enough on his hands — instead of begging him for things like many people do.

But part of our compact was we would not be hurtful to others — including family — in our youthful irreverence even if we disagreed with their beliefs and practices. We didn’t always succeed — ah, the impetuosity of youth! — but it was a good principle that served us well later. Which is how even when we divorced 27 years ago, after five years of courtship and five years of marriage, we remained friends, great friends. Part of the compact.

Don’t be hurtful. Even to each other. We met at a school that was the birthplace of the Rationalist Movement of India — National College. Our principal, Dr H Narasimaiah, and the Sri Lankan rationalist, Dr Abraham Kovoor, were pioneers of the movement, and right from our teens we took to the thrill of questioning and debunking a variety of godmen/women, charlatans, frauds, superstitions etc that abound in India.

More on this another time, but I’m putting this out here early to provide context to the killing. Rationalists and agnostics are in the cross hairs of uber-religious bigots. One of the first books we read together — before getting into the weeds (I mean metaphorically) of religion, politics, and life itself ­ was Will Durant’s Story of Philosophy. Neither of us was proficient in our mother tongue Kannada (at that time), so we regretfully forsook our own bounteous literature for everything from Wodehouse to Graham Greene, devouring anything that Premier Book Shop’s Mr Shanbhag could produce for us — at a matchless 20 percent discount (others got 15 percent). She returned to Kannada years later, but more on that soon.

Meanwhile, we “skinned our hearts and skinned our knees, learned of love the ABCs.” Terry Jack’s sappy, saccharine “Seasons in the Sun” has just been released a couple of years before, and we hummed it between Dylan and Beatles. I’d return to Indian music years later; she was tone deaf. We read and laughed at Eric Segal’s Love Story, saw the movies ABBA, Saturday Night Fever, and Gandhi on our first dates, and went to the boondocks on moonless nights, to see billions and billions of stars and galaxies, after reading and watching Carl Sagan.

Feisty wouldn’t even begin to describe her. She hated the fact that I smoked in college. Years later, when I had given it up for a long time, she had begun to smoke. One time, she visited me in US (crazy innit? ex-wife visiting me? But she was more friend than ex!) I insisted that she not smoke in the apartment because it was carpeted and the stink wouldn’t go away. It was winter.

Many friends were and continued to be bemused by our friendship. Separations and divorces are often messy, bitter and spiteful in India, or anywhere for that matter. We had our moments, but we transcended that quickly, bound by higher ideals. On our day in court, as we stood next to each other, our hands reached out and fingers interlaced, “If you want to go your own ways, better disengage,” the lawyer hissed.

After it was done and dusted (“by mutual consent”), we went out for lunch at the Taj down MG Road. The restaurant was called Southern Comfort. We laughed at the irony and said goodbye as I moved first to Delhi, them Mumbai, then Washington DC. She visited me in each place to argue about Life, the Universe, and Everything (we read Douglas Adams in school).

My parents loved her despite her rebellious nature, and remarkably for traditional, orthodox Indian parents, kept in touch with her — and she with them — even after we went our own ways. One time, when I told her about a budding dalliance, she drew herself to her full height (all of five feet and HALF INCH — she never failed to emphasize the half inch) and said: “Ha! You can never take away the honor of being the first daughter-in-law of the family.

When my mother passed away this past February, Gauri Lankesh was there, literally “live casting” me the final rites before I got home. My ties with her family were as unusual. Through our separation and going our own ways, I continued to meet her dad P Lankesh, a writer, playwright, film-maker — even after I began living in the US, when I
visited India. Over a drink or two, we’d debate and argue about politics, religion, literature, movies, farming distress, health, the world. They’d tease me about abandoning the good fight, while I’d argue that it was temporary, and a little time and distance is good for perspective. Where he passed away in 2000, she truly became her father’s daughter, taking over the newspaper he founded and continuing the good fight.

There was no doubt she was left of center, even extreme left of center and there was much we disagreed about. She chewed me up for being an early proponent of technology, saying one time in the 90s, “Stop yammering about cell phones. Our poor can’t eat cell phones.” I never let her forget it. But her heart was in the right place.

Some eight years back, after I had built a new home in Bangalore, she determined that I needed a housekeeper to manage the place. “I am sending someone over,” she declared over the phone. “She’s a widow with two young daughters. Make sure you take care of them and put them through school.” Ramakka, her gift to us, is still with us; her daughters Asha and Usha both graduated from school, earned degrees, and now work — Asha in Syndicate Bank and Usha in an NGO. There are hundreds of Ashas and Ushas because of Gauri Lankesh. For me, there is just this: My friend, my first love, she was the epitome of Amazing Grace.

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