Dear Gauri….. A Letter To Gauri Lankesh


Dear  Gauri,

It is 10 days since I wrote to you…2 days ago- September 15th was the International Day of Democracy with the theme Democracy and Conflict Prevention focusing on strengthening democratic institutions to promote peace and stability through strong leadership, strengthen civic society and empower women…it goes on. Somehow this day as many other days, I miss you…want to ask many questions and discuss many issues with you…On this day dedicated to democracy about which you have been discussing, debating and dialoguing for years, I think most about you, dear friend…

The image that came up first in my mind  as I heard about democracy was that of the women and children in Idinthakarai village that was the epicenter of the Koodankulam Anti-nuclear Movement in 2012. On August 15th, the women and men carried a coffin with the body of Indian democracy… lamenting in the traditional Tamil style the death of a dear one, lauding his/her qualities and strengths, how the gap created by the death will create a disaster in the nation… It was a moving, poignant pointer to the denial of human rights that took place as the Nuclear Power Plant was established without addressing safety and environmental norms of the community nearest to this time bomb!

Today as I write this, the Prime Minister is “dedicating the Sardar Sarovar Dam to the nation” – another rhetoric we are all a bit fed up and angry about. We cannot forget the tears and sheer waste of Bhakra Nangal that the first PM of India dedicated to the nation and described as “ temple of modern India”. As I write this and before this reaches you, more than 177 villages will be facing partial submergence. Again and again we mourn the death of our dear friend, philosopher and guide, Democracy.

I was going over the word Democracy in 4 South Indian languages. It was Xavieramma of Idinthakarai village who taught me the word for democracy in Tamil. “Jananayakam”. She explained democracy as when people lead the country…she described it as governance “for, by and of the people” in the simplest style possible. She went on to make me understand how and where in their struggle against the Koodankulam Nuclear Power Plant, the villagers realized the depth and impact of negation of their rights as citizens of a democracy described as one of the largest in the world. Their anger and indignation at not being consulted when such a huge development project was being planned in their own vicinity, their safety and rehabilitation being treated with criminal negligence, their health and ecological integrity of the surrounding oceans not being factored in…all of this and many more became points that they saw as murder and death of democracy.

In Malayalam, the word ‘Janadhipathyam’ denotes the supreme role and power of the people/citizen. Likewise in your language Kannada, the word ‘Prajaprabhutva’ which you must have used million times in your writings and in Telugu ‘Prajasvamyam’ indicate the power of the people. If words are an indicator of larger vision and content in the 22 major Indian languages, then will each of these word have to be changed, given we are killing democracy and all that it stands for? That is as scary and final a thought as murdering and killing of all people who openly voice out their protest and resistance against violation of basic democratic rights…

I keep wondering what the contemporary definition of strong/strength is…it keeps appearing everywhere and creates an ambiguous grey zone around itself…you have been described as “bold and strong” – the same virtues for which you paid with your life and blood! So is it fine and safe to be strong? When we say strong leadership and civil society is our starting point with children whom we call “father of man”???!!!

The last week I heard some songs that are sung for and about children. The first one in Tamil written almost a century ago by Subrahmania Bharathi “Odi Vilayadu Pappa” motivates the child to be fearless and capable of spitting in the face of wrong and being honest and true. The lyrics encourage the child to resist and deny all injustice and never give space for that in life.

The second song is a Kannada one by R.N.Jayagopal which I am sure you would have heard…”Cheluvina Muddina Makkale” that addresses children. This also creates a world for the child to grow fearless, obeying parents, being respectful to elders and to follow the path of truth and justice. The lyrics pressurize the child to co-operate and tolerate, to be friendly and positive, helpful and kind…and most of all to live together in peace and harmony.

Both the songs are apt to be sung and taught on this day of Democracy. Yes, the children in the city of my birth coming from safe and stable backgrounds listened with smug complacence to these songs sung by the M.B.S Youth Choir. The power point presentation that accompanied these songs carried images of your smiling face with painful reminders about the intolerant minds and hands that shot the life and pulse out of you. Did it create a spark and ignite a fire in the young minds that were listening? No, these children have been taught to obey and “be good” …

As I write this, I read the deliberations and speculations about who killed you. While it has been stated by many that one should not blindly allege without enough proof and some have already had cases against them for doing so…the fact remains that you were killed by people who came with strict plans and arms to annihilate you… and you are not alive anymore to tell us who they could be! Our Indian hypocrisy and sudden allegiance to “the right approach” silences us!

But what I keep wondering is about the great Indian Tradition (that is being quoted left, right and centre these days) of respecting the woman as mother, sister, daughter, bearer of children and so on. The men who killed you must also be having mother, sister, bearer of children (wife) and daughter. Would the mother he respected, the sister he cared for, the wife he husbands and the daughter he fends for have feelings for the murderer in him? Would he be the perfect elder that his children and other youngsters find worthy to obey and emulate? Would his parents have taught him the mantra of intolerance and violence that made shooting at you so easy and commonplace? Would he have gone home after planning and executing the murder as an obedient son, a loyal husband, a caring husband and a doting father? All these questions confuse me a lot because all around me I see lurking in the shadows of dishonesty and wrong justifications, such humans who are killers! I wonder a lot how you see this…

It seems scary to teach our children to be brave, honest and just, capable of facing crime and corruption in the face and opposing it. Which child would want to grow up and face an end like yours? Which mother, sister, brother, father would want the beautiful woman in their family killed for being brave and honest, asking the right questions about the wrong doings?

Can we boldly sing songs like Odi Vilayadu Pappa and Cheluvina to our children? I doubt if we can sing aloud with hope and togetherness, “We shall overcome/ We will live in peace/ We will walk hand in hand” and so on.

Yet I know deep within me that we need to muster the shreds of courage and hope (that you have held on and left behind) and sing/speak out loud and like never before!

In your face book you had posted the heart wrenching images of 2 babies with this writing: “What is more heart wrenching? One is from Syria. The other is from Myanmar. But both are kids. Who could have been mine, yours?” Since the day you ceased to breathe, we have been flooded by news of a boy slain to death in school, a little girl raped and trying to hide her bleeding, of a child murdered and buried for months….all of these are our children too…

How and when will such basic feelings be reinstated in our hearts and conscience? It needs little sense to understand that the perpetrators of your murder and the delay in naming them will create spaces in the society for epidemic growth and justification of all forms of perverted, intolerant crimes and violence.

Instead of fooling ourselves that all is well and all set with a “first class ticket for a free ride in a Bullet Train”, along super Adani highways and ports, we need to sit together and put things, facts and figures, incidents and happenings, talks and whispers on board…and I miss you most again here…you were the one to see things square, face truth and injustice upfront. As we sit together in many places all over the country ( maybe all over the world), a chair will be kept for you, a chair empty and unoccupied, dear sister, for you to voice your rational, clear and honest thoughts, dreams and opinions about democracy and the right to live.

With love



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