Gauri Lankesh murder: A long night of the trishuls is upon us

Are we becoming a society of sociopaths, devoid of compassion or empathy?

 |  4-minute read |   06-09-2017
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On the cold and icy night of June 30, 1934, while Hitler’s regime was still in its nascent stage in Germany, a pack of brutal assassins unleashed themselves onto the voices of dissent, reason, and sanity. Over the next two days, scores of people who were seen as a threat to Hitler were killed and a wave of terror silenced any possible dissenters to his rule. Hundreds of those perceived to be critics of the government were imprisoned.

This came to be known as the "night of the long knives" and it eliminated any opposition to Hitler. It was a watershed moment in German history which resulted in common people following the government in an almost trancelike state. Such waves of terror, are the hallmarks of totalitarian regimes that are hypersensitive to any criticism, real or imagined.

Of course, in the modern day, governments with dictatorial streaks seldom make their assault on freedoms as overt as the "night of the long knives", given that people are aware of such precedents in history. The purge is strong enough to eliminate those who dissent and yet done very subtly, to become inconspicuous to the public imagination. With the mushrooming of TV news channels and the advent of social media, one would presume that it is difficult to escape public scrutiny. However, the media has become an integral part of stifling dissent — or at the very least, ensuring that the complexion of public discourse is favourable to the ruling party.

It is important for citizenry of any country to be vigilant about such occurrences repeating themselves if they don’t want their country to digress from the path of democracy and cascade into chaos. While the "night of long knives" was quick and brutal, where the knife was longer than the arms of justice, in our times the night is stretched long enough to escape public memory.

The darkness is spread over a longer period. That is perhaps why the Indian media is not able to join the dots and see a link between the murders of scholar MM Kalburgi, rationalists Narendra Dabholkar and Govind Pansare, and outspoken liberal journalist Gauri Lankesh, despite these cases being high profile. The government remains incompetent or it is dragging its feet to unmask the "unidentified assailants".

Meanwhile, much like the brown-shirts and black-shirts of yore, the insolent supporters of authoritarianism have resorted to bullying dissenters on the internet. While this may not be as visceral as the violence they unleash on the streets, a concerted campaign to stifle voices of dissent and rationality is unmistakably controlling the complexion of discourse.


Horrifically the intemperate language is not restricted to trolls as even journalists have joined in with acerbic and divisive comments. Barely hours after Gauri Lankesh was killed, Jagrati Shukla who earlier worked with Zee Media and Network 18 (as stated in her Twitter Bio), posted disparaging tweets that appeared to mock her death. The ideological differences notwithstanding, her comments were in poor taste, and the tone was almost jubilatory at the unfortunate death of a human being, that too one from her own journalist fraternity.

Perhaps it’s time we introspected as a nation and assessed where our society is headed. Are we becoming a society of sociopaths, devoid of compassion or empathy? Or is there a silent majority that mourns the plummeting standards of public morality? For how long will we suppress our anxieties and pretend that all is well while regressive forces continue to gnash our democracy to death with their trishuls?

Sadly, our ideological preferences are preventing us from standing up for democratic values India is founded upon. And while we indulge in meaningless one-upmanship and whataboutery the government escapes responsibility for its criminal incompetence in multiple fronts. This climate of hatred doesn’t augur well for India’s progress and development.

As a nation, we must identify what our problems are and debate them, in an effort to find solutions. The trishuls are on the whetting stone. The darkness of the night is going to be long. And we have a duty to make democracy strong.

Perhaps it will be a tribute to Gauri Lankesh to recall the words of one of her last tweets:

Her resonating words are now poignant, profound and prophetic!

Also read - Cabinet reshuffle: 10 things you should know


Madhuri Danthala Madhuri Danthala @madhuism_

The author is a political analyst based out of Bengaluru.

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