It's a crying shame Ram Guha gets notice for column on Gauri Lankesh

This political climate of intimidation and tendency to silence critical voices have already garnered international condemnation.

 |  6-minute read |   11-09-2017
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The ruling party at the Centre, BJP, has sent a legal notice to historian Ramachandra Guha, for his latest opinion piece in the Hindustan Times, in which he blamed the “rise of political Hindutva” for the murder of Kannada journalist Gauri Lankesh.

Guha had said in his oped titled “Gauri Lankesh killing: Undermining democracy, one writer at a time”, that while “Lankesh’s death has been mourned by ordinary, decent Indians ... it has been ghloulishly celebrated by right-wingers”. Guha pointed out, like many others, that Lankesh was murdered six months after she wrote that Bangalore, her city, was falling prey to hate, and women could no longer move freely in “public spaces without fear of lecherous goons, fundamentalist fanatics and brainless men in power who point out to outfits that women wear instead of the muck that is filled between the ears of sick men as the root cause of molestation”.

Guha, a trenchant critic of Hindutva himself, has been sent a legal notice for making the connection between the murder of Lankesh and the Sangh Parivar, never mind that a BJP MLA from Karnataka himself has openly said that Lankesh would have been alive if she hadn’t written against the RSS.

Of course, it’s Karnataka BJP’s youth wing that has sent Guha the legal notice. According to India Today, “In the notice, a copy of which is with, Karunakar Khasale, state secretary of BJP Yuva Morcha, Karnataka, accuses Guha of making "false" and "baseless allegations" that are "calculated to tarnish the image and reputation of" the RSS and the BJP.”

The notice says, according to India Today:

"Your deliberate, false and calculated statement against our client's organisation has caused great anguish in the minds thousands of its members and sympathisers," the notice reads. "your baseless utterances are also calculated to influence and mislead the on-going investigations of the said incidents. This amounts to illegal interference in the course of justice and is also a grave offence."

Guha has tweeted, ostensibly in response to the notice:

Incidentally, Bobby Ghosh, the editor of Hindustan Times, has also resigned for “personal reasons” on the very day Guha has got the legal notice. Though no overt connection exists between the two developments, the coincidence has not gone unnoticed in India media sphere.

During the tenure of Ghosh, HT put together the highly interactive and valuable “hate tracker”, connecting hate crimes against minorities, particularly the beef lynchings, as well as the “Let’s Talk About” series, in which columnists and writers discuss pressing issues of the day. 

The legal notice to Guha came swiftly, for the oped published yesterday, Sunday, September 10, 2017 and Guha minced no words when he said in it:

“Gauri Lankesh’s murder has been compared to the killing of other brave, independent-minded writers such as Narendra Dabholkar, Govind Pansare, and MM Kalburgi, who were likewise detested by right-wing Hindu fundamentalists. But that Gauri was a woman made her views even more difficult for the bigots to stomach. She had herself remarked on ‘the increasing attitude of fundamentalists of all colours who believe that women have to be shut behind closed doors for their own safety’. What if women refused to be shut behind closed doors? What if they chose instead to participate in public life, as citizens and writers? Then the fundamentalists must have them suppressed and silenced.”

guha_091117081544.jpgPhoto: DailyO

Guha added: “Even if the BJP or the RSS is not directly involved in this and similar murders, there is little question that the ruling dispensation has enabled a climate of hate and suspicion that makes such targeted killings of writers and scholars possible. It may be freelancers who actually commit these acts; but they are emboldened by politicians, ideologues and television anchors who demonise all critics of the ruling regime as anti-national. The political climate is now more poisonous and rancorous than at any time since the Emergency.”

Only days after Supreme Court of India observed that strong criticism of the government doesn’t constitute sedition, and is part of healthy, robust democracy, we witness the same intimidation techniques that were used unsuccessfully to threaten and silence Gauri Lankesh, being used on a globally renowned historian like Guha. In fact, Guha had famously asked in a searing cover story for the monthly magazine Caravan – “Where are India’s conservative intellectuals?” – which too had received a lot of hate from the Hindutva trolls and right-biased voices within the media.

It must be remembered that Lankesh had strongly warned against the Hindutva hate brigade in most of her editorials and writings, many of which are being translated into English and documented in the blog – Gauri Lankesh Writings.

lankesh---writings_091117075739.jpgPhoto: Screengrab

It’s also worthwhile to remember that the BJP IT cell head Amit Malviya had sent out this tweet after Lankesh was convicted in the defamation case against BJP MP Prahlad Joshi, nine months after which the journalist was slain.

Not just Guha, many other writers, journalists and activists have drawn the connection between the intimidation – through legal cases, online abuses via troll factory – and the violent murder of Lankesh. P Sainath had written that the “murder is the message” in reference to Lankesh’s death.

With Guha being slapped a legal notice now, it’s obvious that the climate of threat, silencing and intimidation would continue. Little wonder then that India has got a rap on its knuckles from the United Nations high commissioner for human rights, Zeid Raád Al Hussein, who, during his opening statement at the 36th session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva today, came down heavily on New Delhi for its abject failure to live up to global rights standards, particularly in the context of the Rohingya Muslims as well as the murder of Lankesh.

No bigger shame than this for the world’s biggest democracy.

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