Ideas are bulletproof, people aren’t.
I used to be a full-time journalist for an English language daily in Bangalore a few years ago. I wasn’t a very good one. I was new and didn’t recognise important people when I saw them. I didn’t smoke either, but that didn’t stop me from taking frequent cigarette breaks with my friends. So when one of my Bengali colleagues walked up to my desk and asked me to come down for one because there was someone she wanted me to meet, I was quick to turn off my computer and join her.
The someone was a fiery little lady with grey hair who I didn’t recognise right away, but over conversation I realised it was Gauri Lankesh. She wrote a weekly column for the newspaper about politics and had come to office to discuss her next few pieces with the editor-in-chief. Again, I was a bad journalist because I didn’t read my own paper, but my colleagues whose job it was to edit her column hung onto her every word erupting with laughter. I was surprised by the fire with which she spoke, burning the right wing and pseudo-liberals alike. I was surprised by how someone who seemed so little, could be such a giant within. It was inspiring to say the least.
Brutal murder of the face and voice of secularism. Image source: bilkulonline.com
The conversation rambled from politics to the state of the news media to the current government to her relationship with her brother, filmmaker Indrajeet Lankesh. But the bit that really stood out for me was when the conversation turned to weed. Despite being quite the stoner in her college years, now with age only a couple of hits did it for her. She regretted not being able to smoke a whole joint anymore. I was surprised that she smoked at all. But then again, marijuana is a strange thing that brings most left wing liberals together.
She was getting late for another meeting and bid goodbye after a couple of smokes. When I returned to my desk, the first thing I did was Google her, and was impressed by what I found. The next time one of her columns was published in the paper, I paid more attention to reading it.
It’s hard to glean any more details about that evening from memory, because I never thought it would be the last, or something that I would have to write about. Until last night….
Social media is full of hatred and support. Image source: Facebook.com
When I casually opened Facebook as I sat on the pot, the first status on my feed was one by an acquaintance that said Gauri Lankesh had been shot outside her home in Bangalore. Startled, I immediately looked for more details and turned on the news. As she was returning home from work, three gunmen pumped her with seven bullets right outside her gate as she stepped out of her car to open it. The cowards might have been waiting in the bushes for a while.
Even though I knew her mostly by reputation, and met her only once, the news of her death fills me with rage. Not because of personal loss, but what her death represented. The death of a dissenter, the brutal murder of another voice of reason who chose to speak out against a rotten system of caste hierarchy and Hindutva politics. What pisses me off even more was I knew for sure, that like the killers of Kalburgi who was killed in the same manner a few years ago in Karnataka, her killers would get away undetected and unpunished.
There were messages on my feed of condolences and rest in peace pouring in from most people who were just as shocked. People who knew her better and people to whom she was a personal friend. But when you go on any popular news channel's Facebook page and go on the comments section of the news article, you will find countless comments that say ‘she had it coming, she had been asking for it, she was anti-national and deserved to die. Others like her should meet a similar fate.’
All she did was write and speak out and words don’t kill. But the people she wrote against, whose actions have caused the country more harm over the last few years, are completely safe with Z level security.
It is hard to find a conclusion to this piece without sounding like an immature angry child, but it is hard to support arguments of non-violence from the left when the right feel free to shoot down anyone who they think causes a problem. It is a slippery slope when prominent journalists like her can be mowed down fearlessly by gunmen. There’s nothing protecting a nobody like me from facing repercussions for writing this piece.
Yeah, we can intellectualize her death and write powerful eulogies but the only thing that will keep her legacy alive is not letting that fire she carried within her die out. Because that was what they were after, that was what they wanted to quell – the fire she carried within her. So every time you see something that doesn’t seem right, when you see the downtrodden being oppressed and another journalist gets shot down, ask yourself ‘What would Gauri do?’
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are independent views solely of the author(s) expressed in their private capacity and do not in any way represent or reflect the views of 101India.com
By Falah Faisal
Cover photo credit: thenewsminute.com