Gauri Lankesh's murder left me cold: A new evil challenges Indian Constitution today
No one knows who killed her, or who were behind the plan. Yet it is clear there was a conspiracy.
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The news of Gauri Lankesh's assassination shook me to the core. It was like a bullet shot at close range. Even before I could fully comprehend the news, it pierced the heart. Every time I think about it, I start fuming at the way she was murdered.
The country has been witnessing murders almost on a daily basis, fuelled by political rivalries, honour and personal enmities. Yet, this news couldn't have been more shocking. This murder was not the result of a gang war between two armed parties. It was a pitch-perfect murder, a plan hatched by conspirators who wanted to destroy the idea of an unarmed fighter.
Gauri Lankesh was a fearless person who was against all forms of violence. Her only weapons were rational and logical arguments to support her stance.
This murder is more terrifying because it was intended to kill not just a single person, but aimed at demolishing every single progressive idea, social sensitivity and rational politics.
Although I had read about P Lankesh, her father, earlier, it was not until 2013 that I came to know more about Gauri. Like many Keralites, I too was trapped in the pool of ignorance and insentience. Even if I hadn't known Gauri Lankesh personally, the horror of her killing would still have had the same impact on me. The shock is caused not just due to the trauma of a fearless, independent woman denied her life, at the age of 55, but the extreme anxiety at the birth of a new evil that challenges the Indian Constitution today.
Gauri Lankesh was killed on the night of September 5. She was a petite woman. Just a single bullet would have been sufficed. Perhaps the killers were afraid she wouldn't give up that easily - the fighter that she was - so they fired seven times. Three bullets were recovered from her body. Four of them had missed their target. No one knows who killed Gauri Lankesh, or who were behind the plan. Yet it is clear there was a conspiracy.
What was it that the killers wanted to punish her, take revenge for? She just ran a tabloid. Yes, she published some searing investigative reports and had decided against depending on advertisements for revenue from the very beginning. And yes, she wrote precise and scalpel-sharp articles and she raged against extreme forms of Right-wing Hindu fundamentalism.
"As an Indian citizen, I oppose BJP's communal politics. I oppose the way in which caste system is reinforced as being a part of Hindu religion. I also oppose the wrong interpretation of Hindu religion," she would reiterate fearlessly.
In her last editorial, too, she had criticised the BJP. Writing scathingly on fake news being circulated to mislead the reader, she highlighted two instances about Union ministers Nitin Gadkari and Piyush Goyal.
“For example, Nitin Gadkari had shared a picture of Muslims burning the Indian flag, and had commented, ‘On Republic Day, the tri-colour being burnt in Hyderabad’. There is a new image search app on Google. If you search an image on it, you will be able to find out where and when the picture originated. Using this app, Pratik Sinha (founder of altnews.in) found out that the photo was originally taken in Pakistan during a protest by banned outfits."
"Central power minister Piyush Goyal had recently shared a photo, boasting, ‘30,00,000 LED lamps were lighting up 50,000km of roads across India’. But that photo was also a fake. It was a picture of a Japanese street used by a company in 2009. This same Goyal had recently claimed, ‘Increase in indigenous charcoal supply in the last three years has resulted in savings of Rs 25,900 crore’. He had also a shared photo, which turned out to be fake again.”
Gauri also criticised those in the media who blindly and unquestioningly trusted and published all government handouts.
I got to know more about Gauri when I wrote the story, "Bhagawan's Death" (Bhagwante Maranam) in 2013. It was Dr KS Bhagwan - who is facing a death threat on the allegation that he has disparaged Bhagawad Gita - who translated my short story from Malayalam to Kannada. He informed me that it was going to be published in the Gauri Lankesh Patrike. I enquired anxiously whether Gauri had read and liked my story.
"Gauri was excited to read it," he told me. He also informed that she wondered why no one had written a story like that in Kannada originally, and how timely it was to publish it in that language.
In two consecutive editions of Gauri Lankesh Patrike, my story appeared. It was the first time my work was translated to Kannada. That too in Gauri's magazine. I was extremely thrilled.
I had the highest respect for Gauri. Her stance on various issues were admirable. The light on her face in all those photographs always radiated honesty, her face was a picture of compassion, her sparkling eyes devoid of any fear or confusion. Gauri was a woman with high self-esteem, confidence and utter fearlessness. Every time I saw her photographs, I couldn't help but admire her courage and charisma - a fearless woman who had come a long way in life.
"Gauri Lankesh shot dead" - as I read the text message, her face flashed before my eyes, that same fearless look. Hers was a name that I frequently came across while researching on "The Death of Bhagwan".
On August 30, 2015, Dr MM Kalburgi was killed. That incident was the trigger of my story. I needed to know more about Basavanna, study about the Veera Shaiva movement, and the Vachanas too.
I encountered Gauri's name in the reports mentioning Dr Kalburgi. Her pithy statements in the condolence meetings were striking. I was intrigued to know that she was attacked during such a meeting. Her name was etched in my mind as someone whom I should meet. I missed that opportunity during the Bangalore Literature Festival. I had consoled myself that there was still time.
I was so wrong.
I called Dr Bhagwan after coming to know about Gauri's murder. He had just returned from Gauri's funeral. He told me his police protection has been doubled. "There is no braver woman journalist in India than Gauri," he said, adding that the writers and journalists of Karnataka are in a deep state of shock. Everyone respected Gauri so much.
Gauri Lankesh was an incomparable woman. Perhaps that was due to her upbringing as P Lankesh's daughter. Lankesh senior was a poet, editor, short story writer, novelist, dramatist, film director and, above all, a teacher.
In his life time, he penned six short story collections, three novels, two dramas, two translations and four critical studies. In a touching tribute by Chidanand Rajghatta - Gauri's former husband - he mentioned about the genius of P Lankesh, who created a wide world around himself. Gauri had not grown up in a typical family setting. The books that she read, the movies that she had watched, and the values that she had imbibed were of a totally different level.
Chidanand's piece gives a picture of Gauri's eclectic background: A girl who grew up reading Will Durant's Story of Philosophy, and evolved into an atheist, a secular individual and a staunch Leftist. It also hints at the circumstances that seemingly led to her mindless killing.
Gauri started her journalistic career in the 1980s with The Times of India and moved to Sunday Magazine and Eenadu television. When P Lankesh died of a heart attack in his sleep, Gauri and Indrajit (her brother) almost folded up Lankesh Patrike. However, its publisher encouraged them to carry on.
Gauri was 38 then. She had written in English till that time. But in an incredibly short time, she started editing and writing in Kannada and developed into an astute political observer and social critic. She later left Lankesh Patrike to her brother and started her own magazine, Gauri Lankesh Patrike.
I was told Gauri used to work for 16 hours a day. She would proof-read articles almost three times to ensure that they were error-free. She was fearless but someone who would always ensure factual accuracy while reporting about latest developments. When the defamation cases against her were filed for a story she had published in 2008 (for which she was convicted last year), she did not allow the incident to bother her much.
Often, it is easier to kill those whom you cannot defeat otherwise. When he was killed, Dr Kalburgi was 77, his twilight years. What crime had he committed against India and the Indian society to be shot dead at that age? Was it due to the more than hundred books that he had written? Or was it because he had taken the initiative to compile and edit the Vachanas and got them translated to 22 languages?
Govind Pansare, who was murdered before Dr Kalburgi, was 81 years old. He had written 21 books. His crime was that he had written a biography of Shivaji. Two years before that on August 20, 2013, Dr Dabholkar was killed at the age of 68. His "crime"? His endless efforts at creating awareness against superstitions.
All these killings followed the same pattern. All of them had faced death threats. The threats had all been issued by fundamentalist Hindutva organisations.
But the most noteworthy thing about these assassinations are the reaction of some people, their unbridled glee over the murders.
No one knows who killed Gauri and doubts remain over the veracity of claims that her role as a negotiator in the Naxal conflict might have played a role in her murder (as some people tried to link it to). But one cannot ignore the statement of a BJP MLA, suggesting that Gauri Lankesh would be alive if she hadn't written against RSS, BJP.
"I will outlive you," she had affectionately teased Chidanand Rajghatta once. It's true, her work and ideals are very much alive and they'll definitely outlive her murderers. In fact, even in her death she inspired many more to come out and stand up against violent forces - "I am Gauri! Kill me too!"
Let a thousand Gauris bloom.
(A version of this post was first pusblished in Malayalam.)