Wednesday September 6 2017
Obituary: The fearless journalist-activist Gauri Lankesh
Soutik Biswas India correspondent
Gauri Lankesh inherited a newspaper from her father
"What are we going to fight over today?" a journalist friend of Gauri Lankesh would usually ask her whenever she made an early morning call to him. "What's your grudge?"
In her breathless, high-pitched voice, Lankesh would usually ask her editor friend why his newspaper hadn't taken a stronger stand on an issue close to her heart. "If you big guys can't take a more robust stand, how are we going to do it?"
In the southern Indian city of Bangalore where she lived, Lankesh edited an eponymous weekly tabloid she inherited from her father in the local Kannada language. Financed entirely by subscriptions - part of an activist tabloid culture in the state of Karnataka, which shunned adverts - Gauri Lankesh Patrike was known for its feisty leftist views. It also reflected the editor's view and ideology.
Lankesh was a trenchant critic of the Hindu right-wing. She believed religious and majoritarian politics would tear India apart. When Malleshappa Kalburgi, a leading Indian scholar and a well-known rationalist thinker, was shot dead at his home in Dharwad following death threats from right-wing Hindu groups two years ago, she told a friend: "I don't care what happens to me, they even called me a slut. But I really worry for the country. These guys will break it up."
She had other causes too. Lankesh was openly sympathetic to Maoist rebels who have long waged war against the Indian government and she fought hard to bring them into the mainstream. She also campaigned for the rights of Dalits, formerly known as untouchables.
She made no bones about her dislike for Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his ruling Hindu nationalist BJP either. Her Facebook posts often contained unflattering memes of the prime minister. In a recent post she lauded India's stand-up comics for "successfully doing more than most to destroy the Modi myth". Typically, she lent her support to them, saying "We are all with you together and we shall reclaim our secular India."
Lankesh was a feisty social activist (Kashif Masood)
Discarding impartiality, Lankesh's newspaper was often shrill and bristling with rhetoric. Sometimes the stories would give short shrift to facts, discomforting many of her friends. To be fair, Lankesh never concealed her choices: she introduced herself as "journalist-activist" in her Twitter profile.
Not surprisingly, her paper attracted a raft of defamation cases. Last year she was convicted of defamation for a report she published on local BJP leaders. The chief of the BJP's information technology cell then sent out an ominous-sounding tweet hoping "other journalists take note" of her conviction, prompting accusations of dog-whistle politics. This had not daunted Lankesh. Despite falling circulation and revenues, her tabloid continued to take on formidable adversaries.
Along with the tabloid, Lankesh possibly inherited her grit from her father P Lankesh, a versatile cultural icon from Karnataka. He ran a lively, high-circulation tabloid, wrote award-winning novels and made films, all infused with a vibrant cosmopolitan favour. He was also a fearless activist.
Gauri Lankesh, the oldest of three siblings, had decided on a career in journalism early on. She went to a journalism school in Delhi, where a classmate found her "tough, uncompromising and radical". She worked with a leading newspaper, a now-defunct magazine and a fledgling English news channel.
When her father died in 2000, she was initially reluctant to take over his 20-year-old newspaper. Kannada, her friends said, was not her strongest point. But when she finally decided to take it over, she turned completely political and began taking radical political positions.
Lankesh 'adopted' student leader Kanaiya Kumar last year
Friends found Lankesh at once a belligerent and loving personality. She fought and made up easily. She "adopted" two student leaders - one who belonged to the Dalit community, the other charged with sedition - and invited them home. When she wanted to gift them T-shirts, she called a male friend and asked: "What colours would they like, you think?"
In recent months, Lankesh wrote on rising attacks on the freedom of press, local politics and how her city and India's info-tech capital had become unsafe for women. She wrote she was appalled by rising domestic violence, dowry murders and acid attacks on women in what was once a genteel pensioners paradise.
"What can women of Bangalore do to reclaim their rights to live the way they used to?" she wrote in January.
In a way, it was a chillingly prescient thought. The motorcycle-borne gunmen who shot Lankesh outside her home on Monday night probably killed her for her work.
Thursday September 7 2017
Murder of dissent
Gauri Lankesh died for free speech
Until the identity and motive of the killers of journalist Gauri Lankesh is established, it would be premature to hold any party or grouping responsible. Social media warriors are entitled to draw conclusions that suit them but the unfortunate death of the fiercely independent and outspoken journalist is certainly a calculated attack on the constitutional freedom of speech and expression. And it is but natural for all those who value the right to dissent to recall in this context the assassination of rationalist MM Kalburgi two years ago. Gauri was known to hold far left views and build peace bridges between the Maoists and the State. She treated the likes of Kanhaiya Kumar, Shehla Rashid and Jignesh Mewani as her “children”.
Gauri Lankesh had the option to play the conformist. She, however, chose to work for the cause she felt was right. Individuals like her, maybe small in number, cannot keep silent when faced with any wrong or injustice. The countrywide outrage that her killing has evoked shows how fiercely so many from so diverse cultures and regions have stood up for her right to express her opinion. That is a sign of a vibrant democracy. By sticking to her views in the face of death threats and paying the ultimate price, Gauri Lankesh has set an inspirational example for other upholders of just causes. Her message is clear: stand up for what you believe in, regardless of the consequences. Her death has brought to the national centre stage issues she had lived to fight religious fundamentalism, caste discrimination and communal politics.
There is a choice everyone is called upon to make at some point of time: to honestly speak out what one really feels agitated about or play safe and keep one’s opinion to oneself. We as a society have to decide whether we have to allow a free run to exchange of ideas or to extremists and gun-wielding thugs. There is a growing culture of intolerance and hate. Politics of division on the basis of identity, ideology, religion and caste should not be allowed to come in the way of liberal values and individual rights and freedoms.
Monday September 11, 2017
Lankesh, Gauri and their world of alternative journalism
BY Nataraj Huliyar
Perhaps Gauri believed Karnataka still had a democratic space where the criticism would be met with criticism, and not violence.
January 26, 2000. Prof K. Ramdas, the well-known rationalist, was among the many who attended Lankesh’s funeral. He described Lankesh Patrike as a unique social movement in the history of Karnataka, and lamented the time had come to give it a burial with its mentor.
I was part of Lankesh’s team then. If Lankesh Patrike was a movement, I argued, it had to be kept alive through collective effort. Gauri was nowhere in the picture. I expected Ravindra Reshme or T K Tyagaraj, fearless reporters who had taken on corrupt politicians and bureaucrats, to step into Lankesh’s shoes. Gauri had not written anything in her father’s paper till then, and was a novice to Kannada journalism. Yet, within a few minutes of the staff meeting that week, Gauri had become editor.
Not a good choice, I thought like many others. Yet, as a Lohiaite, I supported her for ideological reasons. Lankesh had instilled in me a pro-Dalit, pro-Muslim, pro-women attitude. I still remember the Sunday Gauri wrote and rewrote her first editorial note. It was an issue to pay tribute to Lankesh. Articles, poems, letters were pouring in. When the issue came out, it sold well. The movement was alive and the paper’s well-wishers were relieved.
I had been a staunch ‘Lankeshite’ since my college days. Lankesh Patrike had introduced a new idiom to Kannada journalism. For those tired of the impersonal, dull style of the dailies, here was an eight-page tabloid for 60 paise. No ads. No space-filling stories. From politics to cinema, everything was covered in a lively style. The headlines were fresh and unpredictable. We read it again and again till the next issue came out!
For my friends in theatre, journalism and literature, Lankesh Patrike was an addiction. We learnt about political analysis, book reviewing, column writing, and reporting through the paper. When some of us started writing, the influence was apparent. The tabloid shaped the sensibility of at least two generations and taught them to think and be anti-establishment. For two decades, Lankesh Patrike was a true university for me as a reader and later contributor and a columnist.
Three months after Gauri took over, I got a call from the paper. I was told my column would be stopped. I said, ‘Fine!’ I stopped following the paper, but was aware Gauri continued the anti-establishment positions of her father. Gauri did not have her father’s finesse or creative genius. She had to discover her own strengths. She became an activist. She became a product of the times, when the progressive forces of Karnataka were trying to come together. After launching her own weekly, she was in search of a distinct identity and hence became a willing voice of several activist forums. She made brief, matter-of-fact and hard-hitting speeches. She was clearly anti-RSS, anti-BJP and pro-minorities.
By then tabloid journalism in Karnataka was in a crisis, with 24x7 news channels becoming more tabloid than tabloids. Gauri had inherited a paper without ads, and had to continue to run it that way. After some years, she started a magazine for those taking competitive exams to cross-subsidise Gauri Lankesh Patrike. The new magazine, coupled with the sale of her father’s books, helped her keep Gauri Lankesh Patrike going.
Lankesh had also seen many ups and downs. But he had a network of faithful news agents who were his admirers. Though leading Kannada writers were hurt by his acid comments, younger writers would avidly follow him. When he criticised the leaders of the Dalit and the farmers’ movements, they would stop reading Lankesh Patrike, but would still be curious about Lankesh’s take on some crisis. This was true of politicians too. Even the BJP leaders stung by him felt they were educated by his criticism. Lankesh would say, ‘As long as I am around, the BJP can’t come to power in Karnataka.’ And he was proved right.
Gauri shared most of her father’s concerns except Lankesh’s rediscovery of Gandhi which made his writing introspective and meditative. He was truly progressive but would never spout the movement’s jargon. It is unfair to expect all of this from his daughter, who grew up in a different atmosphere. But she fought. and bravely. Gauri had to jump into the fray, and fought with conviction.
But the Karnataka of her father’s time had changed. The obscene letters he used to get had turned into vicious social media posts. Perhaps Gauri believed Karnataka still had a democratic space where the criticism would be met with criticism, and not violence. But she was too visible and became the target of a larger conspiracy. The ploy is to shoot one and silence thousands. But history tells us not everyone can be silenced for ever.
The author is a well-known Kannada writer and culture critic.
Friday September 08, 2017
All that Gauri Lankesh stood for
Her murder is an attempt to kill an idea
By Yogendra Yadav
What killed Gauri Lankesh? This is not the same question as “who killed Gauri Lankesh?” This is deeper and a more rewarding question. In any case, this is the only question we can meaningfully answer in the public domain.
A murder involves four categories of culpability: those who carry out assassination, those who conspire, those who encourage or benefit from it, and those who are involved in its acquiescence. We must leave the first two for the police to determine. Instead of rushing to conclusions about the assassins and conspirators, let us focus on the larger context that encouraged and acquiesced to, indeed celebrated, her murder.
This is particularly relevant in the case of Gauri. She was not just a person. She represented an idea. It is reasonable to assume that her assassination is an attempt to shut down that idea. It is also meant to convey a signal to everyone else to shut up, or else. Since these signals are in the public domain, we can and must decode these in order to understand the context that led to her assassination.
A word about the ‘whodunnit’. So far, we know only a few relevant facts. Gauri Lankesh was a journalist, a fearless editor of an extraordinary paper called Gauri Lankesh Patrike. She had been carrying out a crusade against the Hindutva politics of the Bharatiya Janata Party and its allies through the paper she edited, and organisations like Komu Souharda Vedike. Last year she lost a defamation suit by a BJP leader; her appeal against it was pending. She had received several threats from Sangh Parivar affiliates. As far as we know, there was no personal enmity angle to this murder.
The killing of ideas
This information is good to draw a reasonable inference: she was killed because of her ideas and her determination to speak her mind. But this information is not adequate to reach a definite conclusion about the identity of the killers and the conspirators. It is only fair that the criminal investigation must not be carried out in TV studios. This is not to say that we must trust the police. Indeed, police investigations in similar cases, whether under the Congress or the BJP regime, have been perfunctory. Still we cannot pre-empt the investigation, even if we scrutinise it later.
While we do not have evidence of who planned her murder, we have lots of evidence concerning those who celebrated and justified her murder. Social media was abuzz with comments that mocked, abused and blamed a woman who had been killed a few hours ago. Most of them were well-established BJP trolls. Some of them were followed by none other than the Prime Minister. In this context, it was vital for the ruling party to dissociate itself from this campaign. But except Ravi Shankar Prasad, no senior BJP leader spoke unequivocally against such comments. The PM is yet to ‘unfollow’ any of these trolls.
We also know the eerie pattern that was replicated in three murders prior to hers. The murder of rationalist Narendra Dabholkar in 2013, that of Govind Pansare, another campaigner against superstition, in 2015, and academic M.M. Kalburgi in 2015 followed identical patterns. In each of these cases, unidentified killers shot down intellectual crusaders inimical to the ideology of the Sangh Parivar. These were not murders to avenge any other act of violence. Nor were these attempts to eliminate a political rival. These were aimed at silencing an idea. Let us not forget that these three ‘rationalists’ were not promoting some idiosyncratic idea: cultivation of ‘scientific temper’ is very much our constitutional ideal. They were killed by an ideology inimical to our Constitution. Prima facie, Gauri’s killing fits into this pattern.
From a rooted tradition
Her ideas were, of course, not the same as the other three. Everyone, supporter as well as detractor, has assumed that she was a ‘leftist’. There has been some loose talk of her being Naxalite. This is not true. Gauri represented an illustrious intellectual tradition of Karnataka that does not fit into any of these categories. As the editor of Gauri Lankesh Patrike, she carried forward the legacy of her father P. Lankesh, the founder o fLankesh Patrikeand one of the three iconic writers of the ‘Navya’ school of Kannada literature. Inspired by Ram Manohar Lohia, these writers from Shimoga P. Lankesh, Poornachandra Tejaswi and U.R. Ananthamurthy combined a strident anti-caste stance with the socialist brand of egalitarian politics and culturally rooted secularism. They mentored the next generation of Kannada intellectuals like Devanur Mahadeva, Siddalingaiah and D.R. Nagaraj whose writings have inspired ‘progressive’ activists in Karnataka.
This socialist tradition is ‘left’ in the sense of being pro-people and egalitarian, but very different from the communist ‘left’ in terms of its cultural orientation. This tradition is rooted in Kannada egalitarian thought that goes back to Basavanna. Although on some issues Gauri was closer to the orthodox left than her father, her secularism was a continuity of this tradition. Like her father, she chose to write in Kannada and in a popular idiom. This form of culturally rooted secularism is in line with the secularism of our freedom struggle. The Sangh Parivar fears this most, as this form of secularism cannot be brushed aside as deracinated, westernised intellectualism.
Her very name carried a challenge to what is now being presented as Hindutva. This is the time of the year to welcome the arrival of ‘Gauri’ also known as Durga, Parvathi, Bhavani or Shakti in many regions of the country. ‘Lankesh’ is, of course, Ravana, the ultimate devotee of Lord Shiva. Her name invokes the tradition of Ravana worship among Shaivites, a practice that upsets the project of homogenous Hindutva.
Gauri lived a life of ideas. It is unsurprising that she was killed by an ideology one that stands in opposition to our Constitution, denies the values of our freedom struggle, fears our intellectual traditions and is threatened by the multiple strands of Hinduism. She was killed by the ruling ideology of our times.
Yogendra Yadav is President of Swaraj India
Wednesday September 13 2017
Thousands protest Lankesh murder
Writers, students and Left wing supporters take out a rally against journalist Gauri Lankesh's killing in Bengaluru on Tuesday. PTI
Bengaluru: Thousands of social activists, journalists, people's forums and political party workers from across the country today organised a protest rally here, condemning the murder of journalist-activist Gauri Lankesh a week ago. The protesters gathered at the city's railway station before taking to the streets.
Members of the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist), Karnataka Janashakthi, Aam Aadmi Party and several student groups were also part of the rally. The 55-year-old editor of Kannada weekly "Gauri Lankesh Patrike" was gunned down outside her home in a city suburb on September 5.
Those marching were seen singing protest songs, raising slogans such as "Gauri Lankesh Amar Rahe" and demanding that Lankesh's assailants be brought to book. Wearing black head bands that read "I am Gauri", the protesters took out the march from the city railway station to the Central College Grounds. Among the participants were CPI-M general secretary Sitaram Yechury, social activist Medha Patkar, journalists P Sainath and Sagarika Ghose, Swaraj India leaders Prashant Bhushan and Yogendra Yadav, documentary producers Anand Patwardhan and Rakesh Sharma and civil rights activists Teesta Setalvad, Kavitha Krishnan and Jignesh Mevani, besides film producer Prakash Rai.
"The forum of progressive thinkers, writers, social activists, artistes and intellectuals was formed on Friday to fight against Lankesh killing and decided to hold the national-level 'resistance convention'," the forum convenor K Leela had said. IANS