Gauri Lankesh, champion of dissent, was fearless even in death; journalist's killing tests India's values

Many of us are troubled by the things happening in India, but we lack clarity. That is because, on such a gigantic scale as India offers, it is not easy to spot cause and effect.

Are things on decline? Are constitutional values in jeopardy? If so, who is responsible? Is it right to blame a group or party if it occasionally says the right thing? These questions are difficult to answer with certainty for the most of us.

Gauri Lankesh, who was shot in Bengaluru on Tuesday night, did not suffer from a lack of clarity. She knew what was going on, and she knew what was causing it. Most importantly, she knew what to do about it and we'll take a look at that in a moment.

As her surname suggests, this was an unusual woman. The name Lankesh is synonym of Ravana. Gauri's father was named, or called himself Lankesh. He was an editor of the sort only South India produces. Interested in politics and culture, highly educated, bilingual, and relevant despite editing an organ with a limited circulation.

 Gauri Lankesh, champion of dissent, was fearless even in death; journalists killing tests Indias values

A file image of Gauri Lankesh. PTI

Lankesh Patrike, meaning the letter of Ravana, was a biting, vicious and highly-politicised publication that regularly got its editor into trouble. After the passing of Lankesh, this school of journalism passed on to his children, who set up similar publications. His daughter's was called Gauri Lankesh Patrike, and it added one element which Gauri believed the times required: a crystal clear response to majoritarianism (also called Hindutva).

This clarity made Gauri attractive, and she was able to pull in towards her those figures who had been demonised for having the same views as her. In Bengaluru, she was the point of contact for such people and she offered herself to them, with whatever limited resources she had, as their host.

She would telephone in the middle of the day to say: "Kanhaiyya is in town. Are you free?" The protagonist of Jawaharlal Nehru University's sedition episode would stay with her when in town and she would manage his gatherings. A few weeks ago, she called to say that Jignesh Mewani, who led the Dalit agitation in Gujarat after the atrocity in Una, was with her. Before that it was Umar Khalid.

When she brought these individuals home, it was always for a purpose: we are facing trouble in our country, what can be done? She gravitated towards action and she was relentless. This is why she was dangerous.

The Karnataka government said she had expressed no indication that she was under threat. This is not surprising, because she rarely spoke about herself, even when she expressed herself strongly. But it is unquestionable that, operating in the local language, and clearly and unequivocally, she would have known that there were many who hated her.

She was thin and appeared physically frail. Her body was birdlike, and quite unlike a middle-aged Indian woman. Her convictions were pure steel and those who murdered her must have assessed and realised that the only way to get her to stop saying and stop thinking the things that they so feared was with a gun.

The author is Executive Director, Amnesty International India

Updated Date: Sep 06, 2017 09:57:08 IST