When rationalists are murdered by obscurantists, secularists by religious zealots, and humanists by fascists, people typically react in one of four ways: 1. Mentally register the murder and then move on as though nothing has really changed; 2. Empathize with the victim’s family by mouthing some pieties and then move on as though nothing really changed in their lives; 3. Offer rhetoric about the horridness of violence, and then make a statement that suggests that the victim “had it coming.”; 4. Truly mourn the victim and plead with the authorities and the judiciary to find the culprits and bring them to book quickly. Categories 1, 2, and 3 comprise the vast majority of people while those in category 4 are far fewer by number but powerful in a moral and historical sense.
With the recent murders in India-most recently of Gauri Lankesh- there is a large category 5 that has emerged. This category- larger than one could have imagined- is defined by those who shamelessly exult over her vicious murder. People in this category not only suggest that she had it coming but also that she deserved it; emboldened by the gestalt of the times and empowered with digital-savvy and social media, these people rejoice in murder and openly call for more. Curious times.
And then there is Category 6- what I call the “mirror” category. This category is defined by all people who, even in the slightest ways, tolerate hatred, bigotry, fascism, murder, and injustice. People in this category might be kind and decent but they remain non-confrontational when a family member or friend promotes religious intolerance, obscurantism, or even violence. We are all in this category too often. Every time we take the easy road, there is a bodycount.
We have collectively created such a foul state of affairs that as a person fighting for the rights of others, condemning fascism and religious hatred, conducting herself with the utmost humanity and dignity, is gunned down outside her home, educated, well-to-do people celebrate and gloat. Is this the dispensation we wanted? Is this the India we longed for? Is this what we want for our own friends, family, and loved ones should they choose to take up the cudgels against Power?
For those who celebrate this murder, it is worth understanding that violence begets violence. If today a person can be gunned down for her anti-Hindutva writings then tomorrow another can be done away with for espousing something else. One day, this might indeed be visited upon the very people who are gloating while hiding behind their keyboards. Open violence- when tolerated- makes every single person unsafe. Ask any Latin American.
When citizens have no recourse and when the State condones such violence, society crumbles. We are very, very close to the abyss. This needs to stop NOW.
As we mourn Gauri Lankesh, we must ask ourselves if and how soon we’ll be mourning other journalists, thinkers, and disobedient humanists. As we write her obituary, we must ask ourselves if and how soon we’ll be writing the obituary of freedom in India.
Daag Ujjala is a freelance writer.