Gauri Lankesh, the Voice of Dissent, Stood for Free Speech
We had UR Ananthamurthy, Kalburgi, my own father P Lankesh, Purna Chandra Tejaswi... all these people. They were all trenchant critics of Jawaharlal Nehru, of Indira Gandhi, of Rajiv Gandhi. But none of them were ever physically attacked, let alone (receiving) death threats.
This quote by senior journalist Gauri Lankesh now remains but a tragic observation, following her death on 5 September.
The scribe-activist was shot and killed by unidentified assailants outside her residence in Rajarajeshwari Nagar in West Bengaluru.
In what was her last public talk, accessed by Scroll, Lankesh spoke about the threats that accompanied Karnataka’s transition from from a secular state to a communal state.
In her interviews with media publications, Gauri Lankesh – who was seen as "anti-establishment" and "left leaning" – expressed concerns over the crackdown on the freedom of speech. Her Facebook profile too reflects her leanings.
One of her last posts was an excerpt from Khushwant Singh’s The Sangh and Its Demons.
In an interview to Newslaundry, Gauri Lankesh sought to explain how her "criticism of Hindutva politics and the caste system,” as well as espousing the cause of human rights, earned her the tags ‘Hindu hater’ and ‘Maoist supporter.’
She went on to convey that this would not deter her from her “Constitutional duty.” She said:
... But I consider it my Constitutional duty to continue – in my own little way – the struggle of Basavanna and Dr Ambedkar towards establishing an egalitarian society.
In 2016, Gauri Lankesh was convicted by a court on defamation charges over a 2008 article against BJP leaders, and was sentenced to six months in jail. Dharwad MP Prahlad Joshi and BJP leader Umesh Dushi filed individual defamation cases against her. She was convicted and granted bail and allowed to appeal the verdict.
Lankesh said BJP and Narendra Modi supporters have celebrated deaths of people who go against their ideology.
In the same interview, Gauri Lankesh said when she found out she was trending on Twitter after her conviction, she was amused. However, upon seeing the tweets and posts, she was caught off-guard.
Lankesh said the government used sedition to suppress dissent. She told The Wire that judicial proceedings didn’t irk her, but the way the case was used by the BJP to gag the free press did.
In another article penned for The Wire, Gauri Lankesh severely criticised the lengths that politicians have gone to bash the media in the name of “parliamentary privilege.” She also berated the media for remaining silent when some of their colleagues were made to undergo public humiliation.
“They are just as aggressive in shouting down participants with a different point of view, even more patriotic than the self proclaimed nationalist himself and are prone to exaggeration while ‘breaking news’ every minute of the day,” she wrote.
At the National Convention of Human Rights Defenders on ‘Reclaiming Rights and Asserting Freedom,’ she spoke at length about Karnataka's trajectory from a progressive secular state to a communal state, criticising not only the RSS and the BJP but also the Congress for the downfall of progressive ideas in the state.
Watch her address on ‘Freedom of Thought and Expression’ in the video below:
Lankesh was a voice of dissent by not only being anti-establishment but by also talking strongly about women’s safety in Bengaluru. In a column she wrote for Scroll.in, she traces the city’s journey from the 1970s and ends on a pessimistic and helpless note.
What can women of Bengaluru do to reclaim their rights to live the way they used to? The way they want to? What can they do to lay claim to public spaces without fear of lecherous goons, fundamentalist fanatics and brainless men? I don’t know. All I know is that the Bengaluru I knew is no more.Gauri Lankesh
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