We lost Gauri Lankesh, journalist, activist and very passionate human being, exactly five years back
It is now history how she was assasinated by rightwing Hindutva fanatics outside her home in Rajarajeshwari Nagar on 5 September 2017.
A killing which shocked not only the people of Karnataka but everyone who believed in a just and equitable society elsewhere.
For us this is a day of rememberance and also renewing a pledge, to rededicate ourselves to the tasks she bequeathed to us.
There are many aspects of Gauri Lankesh’s life which are inspiring to everyone, the way she abandoned a bright career in English Journalism and opted to continue her father’s glorious legacy by writing in Kannada, the way she did not limit herself to writing but also turned to activism, the way she adopted a very daring path of speaking truth to power- without fearing for the consequences.
One is rather amazed by the tremendous energy she possessed that she persisted in the struggle against heavy odds, did not give up despite cases being filed against her in different courts of Karnataka for her work of defence of human rights and a consistent opposition to communal politics. A tactics much used by the rightwing forces to deter conscious people from challenging them and to keep them booged down in cases after cases, in a judicial system where the process itself becomes a punishment.
In one such case of defamation lodged by a BJP leader, the court had even convicted her and she was out on bail.
One of the remarkable intervention she did in public life pertained to her raising questions about the then Chief Justice of Karnataka’s speech at Udupi Mutt – which he had visited at the invitation of Pejavara Swamy, known as one of the founding members of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad. The honourable justice supposedly had talked the language of Hindu Unity there to build a Ram temple.
‘When the Eye of Justice is Jaundiced’ (https://www.roundtableindia.co.in/when-the-eye-of-justice-is-jaundiced/), the title of her intervention itself displayed how she viewed the speech. Her contention was that judiciary in a democracy is ‘expected to be independent of not just the legislative and the executive’ but also ‘be independent of social biases’ and when a judge ‘displays his/ her biases blatantly’ s/he fails miserably.
It is for everyone to see that by her committment to the cause and the way she evolved into an uncompromising figher against rightwing extremism, she has touched lives of thousands of people which was evident in the tremendous outpouring of grief on the streets of Bengaluru when she was taken for cremation.
We know people’s anger over her killing in fact further propelled investigation into her murder and the conspiracy behind it hatched by the rightwing fanatics who consider ‘destruction of evil doers as spiritual practice’.
I still remember the brief meeting I had with her in Bengaluru in mid August 2014 when Karnataka Kaumu Sauhardu Vedike [Karnatak Communal Harmony Forum] had organised an all India Consultative meeting of Progressive Organisations and individuals to discuss the post-poll situation .
Looking back one just wished one had met her more and learnt from her wide experience in the social field as an activist and a journalist.
As an aside it need be told that this unique anti communal forum in Karnataka had its beginning in the famous struggle by democratic, secular organisations and justice loving individuals around the famous Baba Budangiri Shrine, where exclucivist elements were trying to disturb its syncretic character.
Gauri Lankesh was one of the moving spirits behind this forum.
As records tell us the planned killing of Gauri was the fourth such assasination of activists and scholars within a span of four years executed by the same rightwing formation.
The spree of killings of activists and scholars had its beginning in the year 2013 when Dr Naredra Dabholkr, the legendary anti superstition activist was killed while he had gone out for a morning walk in Pune. (20 th August) which was followed by assasination of well known Communist Leader Govind Pansare ( Feb 2015) in Kolhapur. The third one who fell to their bullets was Prof M M Kalburgi, famous Kannada Scholar, known for his prolific writings ( August 2015).
It is true that the killings were a basically a message to everyone that the the ideas these activists, scholars represented, the work they were doing, was an anathema to those people who wanted to usher India into a majoritarian Hindu Rashtra.
It was a message that whosoever is working to raise the consciousness of people, for propagation of values of reason, rationality, scientific temper and also preparing them to fight inequality, discrimination, obscurantism, mental slavery, sectarianism based on caste, creed, religion, even within the domain of Constitution, has basically no place in their vision of things.
Investigation into Gauri Lankesh’s murder had also led to the discovery of the hit list prepared by these fanatics which included names of many leading writers, activists, social workers not only from Karnataka but also outside who had consistently opposed the exclucivist agenda to make religion a basis of nationhood in 20 th Century, who were opposed to turn a Secular Democracy like India, into a Hindu Rashtra
The topmost name on the list was that of legendary actor, director and public intellectual Girish Karnad
This evening, when we have gathered here to discuss Gauri Lankesh’s legacy and also discuss the perils of fighting for freedom of expression, on the one hand it gives us good feeling that there similar programmes are being held in different parts of Karnataka and many other places in the country, it gives us strength but simultaneously there is a realisation that things are not the same since when Gauri left us.
Whether we agree to it or not challenges before us increased in very many ways.
Today, it is more common to criminalise or stigmatise someone who merely tweets her / his opposition to the powers that be and even send her / him to jail under draconian acts.
The state of affairs in the country can be gauged by the simple fact that in 2021 alone six journalists were killed in India basically to do their duty and more than 100 were seriously injured by enemies of freedom of expression.
Ascendant Hindutva Supremacism in its first Avatar rediscovered the phenomenon of lynching – a relic of a bygone era in US society when Blacks were hounded by White Supremacists – when many innocents belonging to religious minorities – namely Muslims – and social minorities – namely dalits and adivasis were lynched merely for the suspicion of carrying beef or were badly wounded.
With its second coming at the centre, lynching has not only been normalised but today open calls for genocide of the ‘others’, the religious and social minorities, in so called Dharm Sansads, have become more common, with the judiciary either turning a blind eye or not rising to the expectations of people seeking justice and enforcing implementation of rule of law according to Constitution.
In today’s India the whole idea of justice is being turned on its head where bulldozer has emerged as the new dispenser of justice, where throwing all judicial procedures to the winds, police and administration are found to be engaged in literally bulldozing houses and shops of sections of people – who are already under assault of majoritarian storm troopers.
We have been witness to the way in which people who were convicted for gang rape of Bilkis Bano and her close relatives and murder of thirteen people and were punished for life imprisonment were released by the state of Gujarat prematurely by clearly violating the necessary procedures involved and with the central government turning a blind eye to this act, what irked people further was the way in which they were garlanded and even felicitated.
What we are witnessing today is unprecedented in India’s 75 years journey, where weaponising of institutions and the judiciary’s rather pusillamanious behaviour on occasions at various levels has not only made any sustainable resistance to it – at the electoral level, as well as at the social level – difficult.
A new feature of the present state of affairs is not that state and its various apparatus is ready to pounce upon any dissenting voice but there are hordes of people – reminiscent of the storm troopers in the Nazi era – who are acting as the extended hand of the government.
Critics tend to compare the situation with the internal emergency clamped by the Indira Gandhi regime but normally forget to underline the qualitative difference between then and now.
We should not forget the long work done by the Hindutva Supremacists organisations to change, influence the minds of the people and it has definitely impacted the psyche of the people where they are ready to look at things in a similar ‘us’ and ‘them’ narrative.
Question arises what should be done today ?
The first and foremost thing is to be fearless, Nirbhaya.
Everybody should bear in mind what the legendary activist across the border Sabeen Mahmood had written somewhere : ‘Fear is just a line in your head, You can choose what side of that line you want to be‘. Whenever I think of Gauri Lankesh, the face of Sabeen Mahmood flashes in my mind who was similarly assasinated by Islamists with due support from Pakistan’s deep state, merely two years before Gauri’s murder, for daring to raise questions and prepare an atmosphere of debate and discussion and dialogue in the country.
The second important thing to understand is that see reality as it is today, do not be under any illusion.
Illusion of any sorts among thinking people in this part of world will be disastarous in the long run.
Rêmember that fascination for Hindu Rashtra is not limited to RSS or various Hindutva activists, its fascination exists among what can be called as liberal sections also.
Do not forget that the idea that if Jews can have their nation, Muslims can have their nation has a deep resonance even among a section of otherwise liberal hindus.
The ‘success’ of the Hindutva Supremacist organisations to turn religious minorities into the ‘other’ or use the Hindu Muslim faultlines to their advantage is a fact and if we are keen that India retains its secular democratic character, we will have to understand why such faultlines can easily be instigated and how to save the cause of secularism by adopting more creative and multifarious ways.
The third important feature of the unfolding situation which is evident elsewhere as well is the fact that with deepening of democracy in our country, with democracy becoming more vigorous her, it has facilitated emergence and strengthening of majoritarian forces through those very democratic route, which themselves are hell bent on weakening, subverting of that route and hollowing out of the various institutions.
A fourth important feature of the present juncture is the unholy alliance of Champions of Hindu Rashtra and crony capitalism is in full view today. It is not for nothing that leading opposition party claims that it is a government of ‘Hum Do, Hamre Do’ – alluding to the dominance of the Modi -Shah at the political level and likes of Adani and Ambani at the level of economy.
The first and foremost thing on our agenda should be to give an electoral defeat to this forces of exclusion, hatred.
For this to happen it is important that political formations – who still believe in the Vision of the Constitution and are opposed to India becoming a Hindu Rashtra should build broad based alliances.
It is clear that an electoral victory to formations with a pluralist, inclusive agenda cannot be long lasting unless the deep rooted biases in the social mind are cleansed. For this to happen it is important that work at social – cultural level is also enhanced in very many ways.
We can learn from what Prof K N Panikkar has written somewhere, where he compares left and rights intervention in social-cultural sphere. He describes the left, progressive work as ‘ cultural intervention ‘ whereas emphasises the work by the right as ‘intervention in culture’
We should remember that it is not a question of word play or semantics. It is the way one is able to influence minds of the people. You open a school and slowly get hold of a generation where you can easily slowly influence scores of children who come to the school but if you limit yourself to performances, or art and cinema or drama etc, it would be definitely appealing to large section of people simultaneously but its impact would not be long lasting.
With thousands of schools propagating its agenda – right from the Ekal Vidyalaya at the grassroot level where the single teacher himself – who also doubles up as an activist of the formation – to top institutions in capital, it has been possible for the rightwing forces to carve out an entire generation according to their own agenda of exclusion.
We will have to gauge ourselves whether our work in the field of culture and society is really leaving long term impact or it is of a transitory , effervescent kind.
At the end we should remember what a famous poet, novelist, singer, song writer Leonard Cohen had written somewhere ” There is a Crack, Crack in Everything, that’s how light gets in’ and continue our efforts to fight forces of obscurantism, sectarianism.
( All India People’s Science Network (AIPSN) organised an online meeting to to remember Gauri Lankesh on the fifth anniversary of her assasination. Leading journalist Aarfa Khanum Sherwani, Dr Asha Devi, Writer and Critic from Karnataka and the present writer participated in it. Prof Raghu Nandan, chaired the discussion. This is an enlarged and edited version of the author’s presentation in the meeting.Here is a facebook link to the programme https://fb.watch/fmg-kbgUSb/
Subhash Gatade is a left activist associated with New Socialist Initiative