Editorial: Gauri Lankesh’s Murder Is a Chilling Message to All Dissenters

Our response should not be to desist from speaking one’s mind but the exact opposite – Gauri Lankesh would have done that and we owe it to her to continue the fine tradition.

The dharma of a journalist is to ask difficult questions, hold the establishment to account and stand up for the dispossessed and the voiceless. Gauri Lankesh was acutely conscious of that. Throughout her journalistic career, she stood up for those values, fighting not just corruption but also bigotry and the purveyors of communal hatred. She was threatened, sued and finally, when she refused to be silenced, killed in cold blood.

The identity of her killers is not known, but her brutal murder by gunmen who shot her outside her home must be seen in the backdrop of the rising violence against dissenters and rationalists and those who have consistently spoken out against the forces of sectarianism and hatred. A climate of intolerance has built up, fuelled by politicians and sundry extremist organisations who operate in the name of religion; sadly, sections of the big media have played a dangerously complicit role in fostering this climate.

Over the past four years, leading thinkers Narendra Dhabolkar, Govind Pansare and M.M. Kalburgi were gunned down for raising their voices against communalism and superstition. The role of militant Hindutva organisations is suspected but the police in Maharastra and Karnataka do not appear to be treating these cases with any sense of urgency. The modus operandi of the killers in Lankesh’s murder appear similar. A proper investigation will be required to pinpoint who killed her – and more importantly who got her killed – but it is impossible to ignore the context.

Just about a year ago, she was sentenced to six months in jail after being convicted of defamation in cases filed by two BJP leaders in Karnataka. Though she was released on bail, the sentence was hanging over her head. The conviction prompted no less a person that the BJP’s IT cell to publicly issue a veiled warning to journalists at large.

Gauri Lankesh. Credit: Facebook

Gauri Lankesh. Credit: Facebook

Journalists in India have long valued their independence, but of late, that one-time feistiness has morphed into a coziness with the powers that be. Some journalists are blatant about their support for the government, others, while pretending neutrality and equidistance, are more subtle. Either way, the space for independent journalism – which does its job without fear or favour and seeks to serve only the reader/viewer – is rapidly shrinking. How dangerous the profession is can be gauged from the fact that five journalists were killed in India in 2016; the same year, India dropped three places to 136 in the global Freedom of the Press index.

A brazen killing such as this one seeks to send out a chilling message to not just journalists but to all independent thinkers and dissenters – that this could be their fate too. The only proper response should be to do the exact opposite of what the killers want – to continue standing up to those who are out to spread terror and silence all opposition. Intolerance of this kind has to be resisted and exposed. Gauri Lankesh would have done that and we owe it to her to continue the fine tradition.

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  • Ashok Akbar Gonsalves

    “The only proper response should be to do the exact opposite of what the killers want – to continue standing up to those who are out to spread terror and silence all opposition. ”

    The Wire, take the flag of dissent from Gauri Lankesh and keep it flying high. We are with you.

  • This editorial states- ‘The dharma of a journalist is to ask difficult questions, hold the establishment to account and stand up for the dispossessed and the voiceless.’ Gauri Lankesh has been dispossessed of her life and thus been rendered voiceless. What ‘difficult questions’ will this editorial ask? In what manner will it hold the establishment to account?

    Will it ask why a Congress ruled State is not protecting journalists and writers who are opposed to the BJP? After all, it is the Karnataka C.M, who met Gauri just a week back, who is responsible for protection of lives and property in his State.

    No. This editorial asks no difficult questions and doesn’t hold the establishment to account at all. Instead it speaks in vague terms of a ‘climate of intolerance’. It then tells a brazen lie- viz. that anyone who doesn’t upset a particular community is at risk of being shot. How many ‘independent thinkers’ are fleeing Karnataka in fear of their lives? None. Are all of those who remain writing their wills and recording their ‘shaheed namas’? Of course not.

    Should people in Karnataka demand that the Congress administration in the State explain why it failed to protect Lankesh? Not according to this editorial. Instead people should ‘continue standing up to those who are out to spread terror and silence all opposition’. Why continue doing something if it isn’t working at all? If it were working how could this ‘climate of intolerance’ be spreading? What it comes down to is this- ‘A Congress Ministry failed to protect Kalburgi & Lankesh. So please oppose the BJP.’ Suppose your chowkidar said to you, ‘Your wife and children were killed by intruders while I was on guard. Don’t criticise me for dereliction of duty. Instead you may kindly continue to standing up to Donald Trump and the ‘climate of intolerance’ he is spreading’. What would you do? Would you fire the chowkidar? No of course not. You are ‘an independent thinker’. You will give the chowkidar a bonus and immediately resume your courageous standing up to those who are out to spread terror and eliminate all opposition’.

  • Amitabha Basu

    Gauri Lankesh, your voice will never be stilled !
    Silent majority, speak up against this murder committed in your name !
    Tomorrow will be too late !

  • TK Sudhirkumar

    No stray voices can address the situation. Broadest possible unity of all well meaning people, who stand for Democracy, Secularism and Mass movements is the only solution for this impending danger of fascism and corporate olygarchy.

  • So you agree that the chowkidar should be sacked. If he isn’t why should he risk his life protecting your family?
    Similarly, if you believe a Congress administration is not motivated to protect people from BJP thugs, you should pressurise that administration till the CM resigns and the Party President promises action.

    In this case, we suspect that some supposed insult to the sensibilities of a particular community lie at the root of both the Kalburgi and this heinous crime. But, all parties court that community. It is not an ideological or politically partisan issue. To be honest, we all know that no matter which sect we belong to, there are some hoodlums who claim to act in its name. They gain prominence where there is a dispute about a particular structure. Even the most respected and ancient Ahimsa based sects have had to finance some muscle-men to protect their ancient sacred places in Karnataka. We all agree that these goondas should be chased out of the pure realm of Religion. We can easily compose our differences. Our Acharyas don’t spend all their time maligning the doctrines of the rival sect.
    This is not an ideological matter at all but just common sense and part of civilized behaviour.

    In India there have been ideological killings. But, generally, these people kill not just ‘enemies’ but also rivals whom they accuse of having ‘sold out’. The voters become disgusted with them. They get marginalised. Basically, they are criminals involved in illegal timber or gun running or extortion.

    The BJP benefits when people like Arundhati Roy or Amartya Sen or Prem Shankar Jha attack them. Why? It looks as though BJP has the monopoly of Patriotism and is committed to raising material living standards for the mainstream majority.
    Gauri Lankesh’s father had brought down Hegde, not because Congress paid him to do so but because he was a journalist and was good at his job. Sooner or later his daughter would embarrass the incumbent administration. Maybe, when she met the C.M a week ago to raise the Kalburgi case, she signed her own death-warrant. BJP must be licking its lips at the thought of a CBI enquiry.

  • Anjan Basu

    Even in this hour of grief – – of shame that India is fast hurtling towards barbarism – – some of us continue to talk about ‘state subjects’. Apparently, the centre’s ‘subjects’ are limited to hollow sermonising and travelling around the world crowing about ‘ India Shining’. Seemingly, even such ‘ state subjects’ as the murders of Pansare & Dabholkar in a state where the great Modi’s own party is in power, don’t trouble his – – or his acolytes’ – – conscience. Of course, the subject of ‘ conscience’ may be alien to the BJP’s books. So, we cannot blame them.

  • Anjan Basu

    I guess she was killed by law also? Aren’t we talking here about the ghastly murder of a brave woman who lost her life for speaking the truth? Can we at least show that we are not totally shameless yet?

  • The Wire

    Comment received from Hiren Gohain, Guwahati:

    Gauri Lankesh’s murder is not only most brutal, reminiscent of the horrors of Gujarat 2002 and the assassinations of Dabholkar, Pansare and Kalburgi, but it was also carried out with same sort of cold calculation. It seeks to strangle the voice of conscience with sheer terror. It conveys a message of ruthless intolerance of dissent. It plans to snuff out the flame of courage with the rage of blind unreason.

    The killers chose to strike in a state not ruled by BJP. Perhaps this was done to leave no trace of the murderers’ links with Hindutva. But the act was aimed at filling everyone with fear and foreboding.The police as usual will hustle and bustle, follow false trails, sow seeds of uncertainty and eventually slacken in its watch.

    Public hue and cry will actually only add to the thugs’ sense of triumph. What is needed is to put the heat on the Hindutva camp, force them to run for cover, and put courage in the heart of the shell-shocked people. The Supreme Court must be roused from its sleep and made to resolutely call the government to order. Steps by civil society to bring about such results are needed.

    The President must be called upon to stop these serial assassinations. There must be marches to Parliament.

    – Hiren Gohain