On 5 September, shortly after news of journalist Gauri Lankesh's murder emerged, the finger of suspicion was raised at the followers of right-wing outfits, which she had vocally criticised for years. Later, Gauri's brother Indrajit Lankesh mentioned the possibility of a Naxalite hand in her assassination, as she has been actively working with lapsed ultra-left members to rehabilitate them into the mainstream.
While the Congress government in Karnataka and the police puzzle over the facts of her killing, a firebrand Hindutva leader in Ernakulam, Kerala, has issued a dire warning to "secular" writers like Gauri.
"If you want to live longer I urge the so-called secular writers to visit nearest Shiva temples and perform mruthunjaya homam soon," said KP Sasikala, president of the Kerala Hindu Aikya Vedi (HAV) since 2007.
The gist of her speech, delivered at a meeting of her organisation, which has been bolstered by the ultra-right Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) over the years, is as follows: if free thinkers like Gauri wish to prolong their existence, they should pray and conduct ceremonies to Hindu gods.
Sasikala reportedly made this comment while giving a clean chit to the RSS and blaming the government of Karnataka for Gauri's death. Like many before her, Sasikala too pointed out that organisations like the RSS are the obvious scapegoats of such murders, since they are believed to be offended by their critics. But she went a step further by adding that if the RSS "starts killing, there would not be a tribe of writers" left.
Following the controversy that erupted over her remarks, including a demand to book her for hate speech, Sasikala tried to defend herself. "In Karnataka, the Congress is on the verge of losing electoral battle. The party wants such killings. So I only said such writers need mruthunjaya homam," she said, according to the Hindustan Times.
Sasikala, however, is no stranger to controversy. A former school teacher, who enjoyed giving lessons in history to students, she was denied entry into the UK after complaints were made against her to the British embassy. Earlier this year, she threatened to block the release of Malayalam movie-star Mohanlal's mega-budget movie unless it changed its projected name, Mahabharatham.
A case against Sasikala was filed by the Hosdurg police in 2016 under sections 153A (promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion) and 295A (deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage religious feelings). As journalist Dhirendra Jha pointed out in his book on the rise of the Right, Sasikala is known to incite communal tensions by misrepresenting history, especially to the upper-caste among her audience.
Sasikala's sentiments towards secular writers is widely shared by many on the political Right, including the supporters of the government at the Centre, as is evident from the stream of abuse that has been flowing on social media since Gauri's death.
Journalist Rifat Jawaid is among the several who were posted a death threat for doing the kind of work he does.
— Rifat Jawaid (@RifatJawaid) September 10, 2017
The Ernakulam Rural Police collected video and audio samples of Sasikala's speeches, after a complaint was lodged by Congress MLA VD Satheesan before the state police chief. Ramesh Chennithala, the leader of the Opposition in Kerala assembly, has demanded that a non-bailable case be registered against her.
Presently, the police have registered two separate cases for hate speech against her.