Prominent senior journalist Gauri Lankesh, who was shot dead from a close range with seven bullets by a motor cycle-borne assailants on September 5, 2017, was a fearless journalist, often raised voices of dissent against the establishment. She was killed outside her home in Bangaluru. She was an audacious critic of right-wing politics of Hindutva for its campaign of hatred, divisiveness, communal polarization, out to destroy the very idea of India, known for its time tested civilisational strength of unity in diversity, tolerance, non-violence, co-existence and plurality as provided for in the Constitution of India postulating Justice, Equality and Fraternity for all of its citizens, equally and alike. Right-wing Hindutva forces branded Gauri Lankesh as a “Hindu hater”.
In January 2017, Gauri wrote, “When I looked at tweets and the kind of comments made about me, I was alarmed. It made me fear for the freedom of expression of the fourth estate in our country today in a larger context and not just in the personal sense”. In June this year, she wrote Karnataka history of “attacks on the freedom of the press.” Taking on Karnataka State Legislative Assembly for sentencing two editors for their defamatory articles early this year, Gauri Lankesh wrote, “Legislators have no business to sit in judgment on journalists and it is high time they were stripped of their special privileges”.
Lankesh was active on social media and her posts were a reflection on her personal and political opinions. Just hours before her murder, she tweeted a report of about the Supreme Court of India questioning the government’s decision to deport Rohingya refugees. She was particularly concerned about polarization among journalists.
Despite the criticism, Ms Lankesh had always insisted that she would not be deterred from her work and considered it her “Constitutional duty to continue in my own little way…… towards establishing an egalitarian society.” She wrote further, ”We had UR Ananthamurthy, Kalburgi, my own father P. Lankesh, Purna Chandra Tejaswi, all these people. They were trenchant critics of Jawaharlal Nehru, of Indira Gandhi, of Rajiv Gandhi. But none of them were ever physically attacked, let alone (receiving) death threats.” This quote of her now stands as a tragic testament of her murder. A most high profile journalist murdered in recent years, Gauri was buried with full state honours. Her murder sparked nation-wide protest from diverse people and media persons. It was also viewed as journalists being increasingly targeted by radical Hindu nationalists. In the recent past since 2014, journalists seen to be critical of Hindu nationalists have been berated and women media persons threatened with rape and assault. Ministers in the ruling BJP have openly attacked journalists using terms like “presstitutes”, a mix of press and prostitutes, to describe them. A trenchant critic of Hindu right-wing, Lankesh believed religious and majoritarian politics would tear India apart. Following murder of rationalist Kalburgi some two years ago, she wrote, “I do not care what happens to me, they even called me a slut. But I really worry for the country. These guys will really break it up.” She campaigned for rights of Dalits and integration of Maoist rebels in to the main stream.
Lankesh edited an eponymous weekly tabloid in Kannada that she inherited from her illustrious father P. Lankesh in 2000 after his death. Self-financed and subscription supported, which shunned advertisements, Gauri’s Patrike was known for progressive, informed and enlightened views. She made no bone about her dislike for PM Narendra Modi and his BJP. Her social media posts contained often unflattering memes of the PM. Through her sustained writings she tried to destroy successfully Modi myth to reclaim “our secular India”. Gauri’s murder prompted Hindi Akya Vedi leader K. P. Sasikala to laud murder of Lankesh and threaten secular and progressive writers the same fate as meted out to Lankesh, in Kerala and advised them to pray for their lives, an open incitement to violence that could happen under PM Modi’s watch.
An epitome of amazing grace, Gauri wore many hats, leftists, radical, anti-Hindutva, secular and patriotic journalist. In her untimely death, Gauri Lankesh has ignited a well-meaning debate on whither India? Is it on the brink of chaos and lawlessness, and adverse signal about India abroad as unfavourable destination for investment, development, and businesses when rebel rousing divisive Hindutva forces are indulging in targeted violence, mob lynching and hate campaign? One hopes, rulers of the day reads the writings on the wall at a time when country’s economy has taken a hit and it is reeling under recessionary trends!