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How Slain Journalist Gauri Lankesh Ruffled Many Feathers With Her Fearless Work

'Let me assure you, they are keen to somehow shut me up too.'

06/09/2017 5:39 PM IST | Updated 06/09/2017 6:47 PM IST
Gauri Lankesh.

Within hours of the murder of journalist Gauri Lankesh, several Twitter handles erupted in what can only be described as a celebration of her death. There is no evidence yet to connect her murder with her work as a journalist and activist, yet, the reaction on social media was proof that Lankesh had ruffled more than just a few feathers during her decades-long stint as a scribe.

Ironically, in an interview to Newslaundry in 2016, Lankesh had observed how the cheerleaders of far right Hindutva factions actually applaud and celebrate the killing of people opposed to their religious and political views. "In Karnataka today, we are living in such times that Modi Bhakts and the Hindutva brigade welcome the killings (as in the case of Dr MM Kalburgi) and celebrate the deaths (as in the case of Dr UR Ananthamurthy) of those who oppose their ideology, their political party and their supreme leader Narendra Modi. I was referring to such people because, let me assure you, they are keen to somehow shut me up too. A jail stint for me would have warmed the cockles of their hearts," she had said.

Her critics on social media just proved her right.

I was referring to such people because, let me assure you, they are keen to somehow shut me up too.

In a video that is now being circulated widely, Lankesh spoke about Karnataka's 'trajectory as a progressive, secular state to a communal state'. She began by mentioning 12th century social reformer and poet Basavanna who was also a part of the Bhakti movement.

"In 12th century, we had Basavanna who spoke much before Marx about the dignity of labour, about equality and rationality and specifically against Brahmin hegemony. But today all those who claim to be Basavanna's followers are BJP followers. It's totally against what Basavanna stood for," she said in the video.

Later, she mentioned how tolerance for dissent against majoritarian views is slowly dwindling. "We had UR Ananthamurthy, Kalburgi, my own father P Lankesh, Purna Chandra Tejaswi, all these people. They were all trenchant critics of Jawaharlal Nehru, of Indira Gandhi, of Rajiv Gandhi. But none of them were ever physically attacked, let alone [receiving] death threats," she said.

Asserting that 'death threats have become a common factor in Karnataka', Lankesh spoke about how orthodox religious, social and political forces have gained power and ascendency in the state. She talked about attacks on pubs and homestays for the sake of 'preservation of culture', and attacks on Dalits and on Leftists by 'Hindutva forces'. The speech also referred to 'love jihad' and how the political narrative has been wreaking havoc in the lives of ordinary people.

She talks about attacks on pubs and homestays for the sake of preservation of culture, attacks on Dalits and attacks on Leftists by 'Hindutva forces'.

In November last year, Lankesh was convicted by a Judicial Magistrate First Class court for defamation and was sentenced to six months in prison. She was also fined Rs 5000. Lankesh was released on bail and she had said she would challenge the decision in a higher court.

Shortly after the sentencing, BJP's IT cell head Amit Malviya tweeted: "Prahlad Joshi, BJP MP from Dharwad, gets Gouri Lankesh convicted in a defamation case. Hope other journos take note."

Around the same time, Lankesh told Newslaundry that 'Modi Bhakts' and the 'Hindutva brigade' wanted her in jail. The interview mentioned that Lankesh was convicted for a report that was published in 2008 in Gauri Lankesh Patrike (GLP), a Kannada tabloid she floated in 2005. She had said that while a majority of the popular vernacular dailies had reported about the same incident, Lankesh was the only one to have named two BJP leaders who stood accused of duping a jeweller of Rs 1 lakh. She had based her report on sources within the BJP, she said.

She added that her conviction had less to do with the story and more to do with her political voice. GLP is an independent tabloid which doesn't carry advertisements from either the government or corporates, Newslaundry reported. Lankesh alleged that the petitioners — the BJP leaders in this case — had reached a settlement with the jeweller. She added that it was her 'right' to not reveal the sources who gave her the names of the men involved.

In the same interview, she also confessed to being 'alarmed' by the nature of the comments she read on her on Twitter.

In the same interview, she also confessed to being 'alarmed' by the nature of the comments she read on her on Twitter. The 'rabid' nature of these comments, she said, made her anxious about the freedom of press and the right to dissent in the country.

"Both those factors 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," she said.

By her own admission, she was often branded a 'Maoist sympathiser' by people opposed to her views. Her life's work show that Lankesh endeavoured people led astray to be reformed and brought back to society. Speaking at her funeral, Karnataka CM Siddaramaiah said, "Gauri brokered deal with Naxalites in Karnataka. She helped those Naxals enter mainstream and played a vital role of a negotiator between the State and the Naxalites."

Across political regimes and divides, acts of trying to understand insurgents and wanting to reform them instead of baying for their blood, has been looked at with suspicion and disdain.

Across political regimes and divides, acts of trying to understand insurgents and wanting to reform them instead of baying for their blood, has been looked at with suspicion and disdain. And Lankesh was among the very few in the country who has tried to look at the abject poverty, oppression and discrimination that had pushed many people to pick up arms against political establishments in India.

HuffPost India's senior editor Somak Ghoshal noted that Lankesh seemed unperturbed by the political forces against her, when they met in 2016. "When I met for the first time, shortly after her brush with the law last year, Lankesh seemed unconcerned about the danger she was courting with her unabashedly anti-establishment views. She published several controversial books in translation, including Rana Ayyub's Gujarat Files and Kishalay Bhattacharjee's Blood on My Hands: Confessions of Staged Encounters, and adopted youth leaders Kanhaiya Kumar and Jignesh Mevani as her own sons," he writes.

The Hindu reports that in 2010 Lankesh was one to lead a movement against the Sangh Parivar when the organisation tried to take over the Bababudangiri hills, in their attempt to declare it as a Hindu place of worship. Hindutva groups have repeatedly demanded that the shrine in Chikkamagaluru, Karnataka be declared a Hindu shrine and Muslims have opposed the move. Till 1975, the shrine was frequented by both Hindus and Muslims. The former considered it to be the resting place of Dattatreya Swami whereas Muslims considered it the shrine of Dada Hayat Mir Qualandar. In 1975, the state government transferred the responsibility of management of the shrine from the Muzrai department -- which manages temples -- to the Wakf Board. Though the shrine had been embroiled in property disputes for ages, this transfer led to a strife of the communal nature. In 2010, Sri Ram Sene chief Pramod Muthalik declared that the BJP-led government at the state will have to face a rebellion from among Hindus.

The Hindu tribute adds: "Gauri was associated with several Dalit and farmers' groups as well and, with freedom fighter H.S. Doreswamy and others, was part of the group that tried to bring Naxals into the mainstream."

Attending a protest in Bangalore's Townhall, activist K Neela sought answers from Karnataka CM Siddaramaiah, accusing his government of emboldening anti-rationalist forces. "Siddaramiah, where are you? Two years ago following the deaths of Dabholkar, Pansare and Kalburgi, your police force said these were killings that had to do with differences in ideology. What were these differences? They stemmed from Kalburgi's position that the Lingayat community did not belong to the Hindu order. That they rejected the so-called tenets of Manu," she said.

She added that had the CM paid heed to Lankesh's opinions, she would probably been alive and would have continued to assimilate oppressed voices against religious, casteist hegemonies in the country.

Several Twitter handles also shared pictures of Lankesh with Kanhaiya Kumar and Umar Khalid, as if to justify that she had this coming.

Several Twitter handles also shared pictures of Lankesh with Kanhaiya Kumar and Umar Khalid, as if to justify that she had this coming. Needless to say, Kumar and Khalid are wildly unpopular for their anti-establishment views and Lankesh considered them to be her adopted sons. She made no bones of the association and the cover image of her Twitter handle is one where she is seen conversing with Kanhaiya Kumar.

In a article published on The Wire today, journalist Sugata Raju shared a recent conversation she had with him. Lankesh was anxious about Kanhaiya Kumar getting attacked by some miscreants. "I am lucky that they have accepted me as their Amma. But they travel so much with people they don't know, in vehicles driven by perhaps lunatics. I get scared for their safety. But can't restrict them. They are the hope and they future," she had told Raju.

Lankesh's Twitter bio reads 'journalist-activist'. Her life, work and critics stand testimony to how efficiently she was doing her job.

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