RIP, Gauri Lankesh

06 Sep,2017

 

By Ranjona Banerji

 

The murder of senior journalist and activist Gauri Lankesh, 55, sent shock waves through one part of India. And open gloating and mockery through another part of India. This is the “New India” brought upon us by Hindutva forces, after the victory of the Narendra Modi-led BJP in the general elections of May 2014.

She was shot on the doorstep of her home in Bengaluru, with seven bullets fired at her, all at close range. The similarities with the murder of writer MM Kalburgi in 2015, killed for his anti-Hindutva stance, are chilling.

Lankesh was an outspoken critic of Hindutva and rightwing forces although she also criticised other political regimes. She lost two defamation cases filed against her by the rightwing, including one by BJP MP Prahlad Joshi and was sentenced to six months in jail in November last year. She was out on bail pending appeal.

“The right to dissent is being threatened,” she said at the time.

These are obvious means of harassment by a party preening itself with power, flexing its muscles. A member of the BJP’s IT cell had tweeted at the time of Lankesh’s conviction that he “hopes other journos take note”. That is a threat, whichever way you look at it and sadly, so many of our “neutral” commentators will not until something tragic like this happens.

News channels discussed the murder last night but as usual allowed rightwing forces to run amuck with their usual whataboutery, defensiveness and the invisibility cloak of “law and order being a state subject”. Some Indian journalists have not fully comprehended the idea of “objectivity” and confuse it with a series of “false equivalences”. Therefore, we never really stand up for our own.

Is it normal in India for writers, rationalists and journalists to be shot dead while out on their morning walks or in their homes? Is this the “New India” promised to us? Is this not a matter which needs greater study and action than primetime debates where political forces yell at each other?

Can we continue to deny that there is a growing majoritarian militancy and a force of intolerance of free thought running through society? For how long can you keep pretending that objecting to the BJP government’s policies and to the hatred of the RSS towards religious minorities is not becoming increasingly dangerous?

This is our country too.

 

**

 

What happened on social media after news of Lankesh’s murder broke is equally if not more frightening. The online rightwing trolls were out in full force, mocking, gloating and threatening.

One gentleman on Twitter, followed by the Prime Minister of India, no less, had this to say, in Hindi: “A bitch dies a dog’s death and all the puppies start howling in one voice.” He has since deleted the tweet but it is representative of a mindset. After all, if the head of the BJP’s IT cell sends out a warning to journalists, why should the party’s online army of trolls exercise discretion, compassion or even humanity?

A few BJP ministers did put out tweets expressing shock and dismay without any qualifications which is very welcome. But alas, other BJP followers – including several rightwing journalists – could not find it in themselves to even pretend to mimic their masters and hold their bile for once. A sad reflection on our times.

 

**

 

Press Clubs and associations all over India are holding meetings and candlelit vigils in Lankesh’s name. They all urge the Congress-led Karnataka government to act fast – unlike the slow pace of the Kalburgi investigation.

I quote from the Mumbai Press Club release:

“If this is how the Fourth Estate is going to be treated by the powers that be, while the government looks the other way, it is indeed a black hour for Indian democracy.”

Indeed. What else is there to say?

 

Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist and columnist. She is also Consulting Editor, MxMIndia. The views expressed here are her own

 

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