Observations & meditations on the day-to-day
Ram Guha on the murder of journalist Gauri Lankesh.
Ramachandra Guha: ‘Ruling party’s bigotry is reinforced by TV channels spreading hate and suspicion’
Ramachandra Guha speaks out against the murder of friend and fellow Bengalurian Gauri Lankesh.
The 55-year-old editor of Kannada weekly tabloid by her name “Gauri Lankesh” was gunned down by unidentified men outside her home in the city suburb on September 5.
Gauri Lankesh was an Indian journalist-turned-activist from Bangalore, Karnataka. She worked as an editor in Lankesh Patrike, a Kannada weekly started by her father P. Lankesh, and ran her own weekly called Gauri Lankesh Patrike. She was shot to death by unknown assailants outside her home in Rajarajeshwari Nagar on September 5, 2017. At the time of her death, Gauri was known for being a critic of right-wing Hindu extremism.
Gauri started her career as a journalist with The Times of India in Bangalore. Later, she moved to Delhi with her husband, Chidanand Rajghatta. Shortly after, she returned to Bangalore, where she worked as a correspondent for the Sunday magazine for nine years. At the time of her father’s death in 2000, she was working for the Eenadu’s Telugu television channel in Delhi. By this time, she had spent 16 years of her life as a journalist.
Gauri was a staunch critic of the right-wing Hindutva politics. In 2003, she opposed the Sangh Parivar’s alleged attempts to Hinduise the Sufi shrine Guru Dattatreya Baba Budan Dargah located at Baba Budan giri. In 2012, while participating in a protest demanding a ban on communal groups in Mangalore, she stated that Hinduism was not a religion but a “system of hierarchy in society” in which “women are treated as second-class creatures”. She endorsed a minority religion tag for the Lingayat community and headed the Komu Souharda Vedike, a communal harmony platform for the oppressed communities. She was also of the view that the followers of philosopher Basavanna were not Hindus.
Gauri was known for advocating freedom of the press. She had written about the wrongdoings of the Indian National Congress leader, D. K. Shivakumar, a close associate of the former Chief Minister of Karnataka, S. M. Krishna. She was opposed to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and broke her 35-year old friendship with Prakash Belawadi when the latter became a media advisor to the BJP during the Indian general election, In November 2014, the Congress-led Karnataka government appointed Gauri as a member of a committee aimed at convincing the Naxalites to give up violence and surrender. However, a delegation of BJP leaders accused her of being a Naxalite sympathiser and demanded her removal from the committee. The chief minister Siddaramaiah rejected the demand.
Gauri was openly critical of the caste system. In 2015, some Brahmins accused her of criticising the novelist S. L. Bhyrappa and Brahminism during the 81st Kannada Sahitya Sammelana (Kannada literary conference) held at Shravanabelagola. At the conference, Gauri remarked that the low-caste author Perumal Murugan was criticised by right-wing Hindu groups for depicting a childless Hindu couple who indulged in consensual sex rituals outside of marriage in order to have children. She then pointed out that the Brahmin novelist S. L. Bhyrappa had also depicted the similar Niyoga practice in his novel Parva, a retelling of the Hindu epic Mahabharata. She clarified that she was supportive of both these writers, and asked why the Hindu groups who were offended by Perumal Murugan were not offended by Bhyrappa. On 19 February 2015, protesters from the Hassan Zilla Brahmin Sabha (“Hassan district Brahmin Association”) organised a rally against her, urging the police to register a First Information Report against her.
On 5 September 2017, three unidentified men shot Gauri to death at her house in Rajarajeshwari Nagar, Bangalore. The men fired at least seven bullets at her at around 8 p.m. while she was unlocking the main door of her house after returning from her office. One of the killers, who was waiting for her near her house, fired the first shots at her, while the two others, who are suspected to have followed her from her office, joined the initial shooter thereafter. The killers were wearing helmets and escaped on a two-wheeler Honda Dio after the murder. Three of the bullets pierced Gauri’s head, neck, and chest, resulting in her death at the scene.
The murder was condemned by several people and organisations, including the Bharatiya Janata Party, the Indian National Congress and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. The Congress leader and Karnataka Home Minister Ramalinga Reddy compared the murder to that of Narendra Dabholkar and M. M. Kalburgi. However, the state police chief, R. K. Dutta, refused to suggest any possible suspects without investigation. The BJP leader K. S. Eshwarappa criticised the Congress-led state government for allegedly failing to protect the lives of Gauri and other writers like Kalburgi. Protests over her death took place at press clubs all across India.
Gauri was given a state funeral with a gun salute on 6 September, after her body was kept for a few hours at Ravindra Kalakshetra for the public to pay tribute. She was buried in accordance with Lingayat customs. Her family did not follow any religious customs for her, however, as she identified as a rationalist in life.
During their investigation, the police accessed CCTV footage from her residence and the route leading from Basavanagudi to her house. The city was kept on high alert the day after her death, with police being deployed at toll gates in Nelamangala, Hosur Road and NICE Road in search of the killers. Vehicles entering or exiting the city underwent stringent checks, while police in the neighbouring states of Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu were also alerted. On 8 September, the Karnataka government announced a reward of ₹10 lakh for providing information about the killers.
(excerpts from Wikipedia)