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Gauri Lankesh : A look at her firebrand Journalism on her Death Anniversary

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Gauri Lankesh was an eminent journalist and a staunch critic of right-wing Hindutva nationalism. She was brutally murdered outside her residence in Bengaluru in 2017, by gunmen. They were later arrested in January 2020 and also found connected to the Sanathan Sanstha. Lankesh, 55, was the editor of Gauri Lankesh Patrike, a weekly newspaper, which she published from Bangalore at the time of her murder. As a journalist she waged a constant struggle for bringing issues in the sidelines to light. She wrote about many issues, as her position in society as a Lingayat woman and also other battles across the nation, from mob lynching, anti caste movements and negotiations with Naxalites. Her fight was also to retain the freedom of the press. 

Born to a family of Journalists

Gauri Lankesh was born on 29 January 1962, in a Lingayat Family. Her father P Lankesh was the award-winning journalist, writer and film director. He ran the Kannada Language weekly tabloid called the Lankesh Patrike. Early in her career, she worked with The Times of India in Bangalore. After a few years, she moved to Delhi with her husband, Chidanand Rajghatta. Later, she moved back to Bangalore where she worked with the Sunday Magazine, as a correspondent for nine years. Her father died in the year 2000, post which she became the editor of Lankesh Patrike and handled it with her brother. She released her father’s periodical was different, he was trying to change Karnataka and its politics and culture through his paper. After a falling out with her brother Indrajit who had taken over as proprietor and publisher, Gauri went on to bring out her own weekly Gauri Lankesh Patrike.

Activism

She espoused various causes — from women’s rights to Dalit causes to rehabilitation of Naxalites — and wrote about those in her columns. She also advocated for Lingayat to be declared as a separate religion. A radical journalist and a gutsy activist, as the importance and visibility of her work grew, so did contempt for her. Her writings explicitly critiqued the polarisation and majoritarian culture that was widespread. Her marches against cow vigilantism, support for the student movement and unwavering fight for secularism made her a threat to many right-wing forces. Who was really afraid of Gauri Lankesh?

Her Idea of Journalism

The final issue of Gauri Lankesh Patrike had been called “In the Age of False News,” with an editorial by Lankesh that called out the Hindu right and its “lie factories.” She had noted the proliferation of rumours and right-wing abuse, and the deliberate stoking of violence, including by troll farms that target women, religious minorities, and people of opposing ideologies. 

SheThePeople reached out for a conversation with Chandan Gowda, who worked with Gauri on the book The Way I see it: A Gauri Lankesh reader. He said “Gauri Lankesh left main-stream media very early in her career. And the media the 4th pillar of democracy, is under threat – lack of credibility, biased reportage and what not. What kind of idea did Gauri Lankesh hold for media and journalism, how do you think she imagined fair journalism to be? Gauri saw media and in particular journalism as crucial elements in the functioning and well-being of a democratic society. So, she held fair journalism in high regard. Great care for facts and for ensuring that the reportage reflected the complexity of the issue adequately constituted a chief feature of fair journalism for her. Gauri’s idea of fair journalism also meant taking an active interest in the issues affecting the powerless sections of society and not being fixated upon issues that matter only for the better off.” 

Also Read: Phoolan Devi, A Fierce Woman Who Challenged Caste Patriarchy

Her Death and Beyond

Soon after her demise, her work was posthumously granted the Anna Politkovskaya Award, named in honour of a Russian Journalist who was assassinated in 2006 in Moscow. 

Her death was also seen in connection to the murder of M M Kalbugri, Narendra Dhabolkar and Govind Pansare. All of them scholars,writers and rationalists in regional languages, murdered in the same way – by motorcycle-borne helmeted men with 7.65 mm pistols.  They all challenged the Brahmanical supremacy prevailing in institutions and refused to confirm to it. Gauri was the 3rd journalist to be killed in 2017. 

During her time active, she was often the subject of character assassination – owing to her left-leaning ideals. Her career was a sharp contrast to a wider context of consumerist journalism. She often questioned the credibility of present-day journalism and the priorities of it. And her death has been seen as a staggering reminder of the eroding freedom of the press. 

Remembering Gauri Lankesh

“She must be remembered for her frank and fearless writing, for her love of social justice. She ran her weekly with small resources, a fact that gives greater weight and value to her activist efforts. Defamation cases, which are usually a means of silencing free-spirited journalism, were being filed against her all the time. But she didn’t let them affect her work and fought each one of them in court. She continued to make space for critical reportage that would upset some power interests or another. She also published Kannada translations of activist writings found outside Karnataka. She also organised public meetings to protest violations of democracy all the time. These efforts were her way of showing commitment to the well being of democracy in India. Journalists and other intellectuals need to see how best they can discharge their moral concerns for democracy given where they are, given what they can do to push boundaries in small and large ways.” adds Chandan Gowda.

Gauri Lankesh’s death has to be attributed to more than those that pulled the trigger. It was not a single act of violence against a person, but a contempt for what she stood for. It hints towards a larger impunity that is enjoyed by the propagators of hyper-nationalism. It is reflective of the culture of intolerance and dissonance that is developed and protected. Reporters without borders ranked India in the 136th position out of 180 countries on the Press Freedom Index. According to the Indian Federation for Journalists, 73 journalists have been killed since 2005. Gauri Lankesh’s journalism was deeply intertwined with a larger reality, borrowing and adding to the resistance against the corruption of the ideals of the constitution. To revere, her correctly would be to respect and honour her fight to ensure the freedom of the press and freedom of speech. 

Also Read: Rana Ayyub One Of The Most Urgent Global Press Freedom Cases

Anureet Watta is an Intern at SheThePeople

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