A Wild Flower in the Indian Wasteland, Gauri Lankesh: 1962-2017



On that dreadful evening of 5th September, if Gauri Lankesh had seen her own corpse lying in a pool of blood outside her house she would have -I am very sure- simply smiled

For even in her death she had done what was closest to her heart – expose India’s saffron supremacists for what they really were.  A sorry bunch of cowards, whose idea of valour or honour was to shoot an unarmed woman in the back and disappear into the dark.

In fact, such was her chutzpah, if Gauri had known there were a group of men waiting to kill her she would have invited them home for a cup of coffee. In chaste Kannada then, she would have asked them to explain whether her dying would be of any use to the ordinary citizens of this land. If convinced by their arguments, maybe she would have happily paid for the cartridges in their guns and requested them to go ahead.

Instead, in the end, her opponents remained true to their cultural roots and usedthe chosen methods of suppressing rebels and ‘rakshasas’ prescribed by hoary Hindu mythology. Like Vali, slyly shot by Ram, from behind a tree or a defenceless Meghnad murdered by Lakshmana, as he sat worshipping Lord Shiva – Gauri, daughter of Lankesh, was silenced only through low cunning and treachery.

Very appropriate perhaps in some ways. Nothing, after all, has really changed in this country, so many millennia since the Ramayana happened. The racist Aryans, whom Gauri fought all her life, are in power and consolidating by the hour.

Not one of these ‘Ram bhakts’ though, had the guts to look her in the eye – for who knows what mighty powers that may have provoked? Gauri, despite her own professed rationalism and atheism – had silently become through her life, work and audacity- what ordinary Indians have respected from time immemorial – a fearless and even fearsome Mother Goddess.She had to be eliminated – the Gods themselves were feeling the heat way up there, from the fires she had lit all around.

Gauri would also had a hearty laugh at the sick characters on social media celebrating her death, their green tongues dripping poison, using the vilest of terms to abuse her. The ethos of these proponents of  ‘Ram Rajya’, are now so visible for the whole world to see.

These are the rabble claiming to be upholders of India’s great spiritual heritage, culture and morality and who distribute the Gita to visiting dignitaries from distant lands. They stand stark naked now, proven to be nothing more than hate-filled misogynists, men without mothers or sisters, born to stone and not of flesh and blood.

Even so, I think,  Gauri was large-hearted enough, to forgive them. For despite the biting language she often employed – her battle was nothing personal at all. Instead she stood for whatever she thought was just and humane and against all that reeked of raw greed for oppressive power. She harboured no ill will against anyone and would have fought like a tigress to defend the human rights of even her foes.

Gauri’s heart would have filled with genuine happiness to see the thousands upon thousands who turned out across India to protest her brutal murder – again, not as a boost to any ego but as sign of hope they hold for the future. What she had tried very hard in nearly two decades of activism – to mobilize and unite fellow citizens against the politics of religious bigotry– happened within twenty four hours following her death.

She would have loved especially all those young girls coming out with ‘I am Gauri’ placards. In the instant the bullets pierced her frail body a million Gauris were already born, resolving to carry on her fight, with similar courage, commitment and passion. India indeed has a bright future, despite the descending gloom at Gauri’s departure There are many indeed many wild flowers, inspired by her, blooming in the dry wasteland this nation has become and they will have their day too.

Gauri, would have known though, given the vast challenges of fighting injustice, deprivation and venal racism of caste in a country like India, even all this outpouring of grief, anger and resolve may not be enough. It will take much more energy, intellectual honesty, courage and conscience to overcome the forces of darkness enveloping our nation.

It will be first of all crucial – to follow in the footsteps of Kalburgi, Pansare, Dabholkar and Gauri – to go to the field to study, mix with common citizens to understand what is really needed and how it should be done. To listen to and speak the language of the people in their own idiom, to truly communicate– in a way that transforms hearts and minds.

How is whatever we see all around us today in the country linked to what is happening in other parts of the world? Is there not a long history of religious, ethnic, racial hatred everywhere and how were they challenged? What were the responses forged by ordinary folks in their fight against fascism or other similar ideologies that pit the weak against the weak to cover up the crimes of the high and mighty?

How does nationalism or religion intersect with the economy, both local and global? Where does the money trail behind the assassins of our democracy really lead to? Who are the corporate babas, who make all their wealth, by distracting the population from its immediate problems using the politics of hate? How can we beard these monsters in their ‘deras’?

What role does religion play in all these stratagems and is religion just one single monolith or can it also contain myriad memories and possibilities of both good and evil? In this ancient land of the Buddha, Mahavir, Nanak, Kabir and Basavanna, is there anything we can learn from them – their outlook, methods and action – that can give us the strength to fight contemporary battles?

We also need to ask today, are we going to confine ourselves to merely protesting injustices or do we also construct alternative institutions and processes to shape a new reality? Do we even have the skills to make such a contribution and have we bothered to develop them sincerely – so that we do not remain mere creatures of rhetoric without any tangible substance to offer anyone?

Are we being honest enough with ourselves, when we point fingers at others while ignoring the various faults in our own midst? Do we have the will or energy or courage to first change our own ways of working?

If we are to be true to Gauri’s memory, it is urgent today we ask questions not just to those in power but to ourselves. It only through the process of putting own feet to fire that we can fly high – like Gauri ultimately did.

Satya Sagar is a journalist and public health worker. He can be reached at [email protected]

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