Those Who Breed Hate Are Now Doing So With Impunity

In the past, violent groups were aberrations and perpetrators of riots were brought to justice. That is no longer the case – the present regime draws support from these very groups.

Gauri Lankesh

From left to right: Narendra Dabholkar, Govind Pansare, M.M. Kalburgi and Gauri Lankesh. Credit: PTI, Twitter

In July 2016, I received an anonymous mail that told me that I had “crossed all limits when I abused Sanatan Sanstha and well respected Hindus. You conspired to defame Sanatan and asked for banning it. It’s time to give a hisaab of all your filthy activities.” After a long rant about my “sins” which included my testimony as a prosecution witness in the Naroda Patiya and Gulberg Society cases, the letter concluded with these words: “As you can see, we know where you live and what you are upto. Get ready to meet the same fate as Dabholkar and Pansare.”

On receiving this threat, I complained to the Delhi police but they didn’t respond and I subsequently forgot all about it.

In May 2017, a year later, I received another threatening letter, written in Hindi, claiming that my death was imminent.

The time has come when just like the evil Shishupal you should also be killed for your evil sins. Reporters like you are the reason pious ladies like Sadhvi Pragya have had to spend so many years in jail. Virender Singh Tawde (a Sanatan member and now accused in Dr. Narendra Dabholkar’s murder) is in jail because of you… The death sentence is apt for miscreants like you in a Hindutva nation and we wish that with the god’s grace, this task is fulfilled very soon.

This time I decided to take it up with the police and the courts. When, despite several letters, the Delhi police didn’t respond, I approached the Supreme Court. The bench comprised of two judges. One said I should’ve first gone to the high court, the other said I should have first approached the local magistrate. A 2009 order of the Supreme Court directing adequate protection to Gujarat riot witnesses was ignored. The petition was dismissed. In times of crisis in our democracy, the higher judiciary is expected to read the wind and give the right institutional signalling. It’s a pity that in this case the court got stuck on technicalities.

Then I went to the high court. The police made a wishy-washy statement in front of the court. My counsel insisted that the Delhi police should give in writing that there was no security threat. It has been over a month and the Delhi police have still not provided anything in writing.

Living dangerously is what comes with being an investigative journalist. In my 15 years as a reporter – a few of which were spent undercover – I have had more than my fair share of close shaves. During the six months I spent among the mass murderers of the 2002 Gujarat pogrom, posing as a hardcore swayam sevak, secretly recording their confessions of murder, rape and plunder, I came within a hair’s breadth of having my cover blown on more than one occasion. Yet, I never excessively feared for my life. So, in December 2004, when I – wearing a spycam – walked into the den of Madhu Srivastava, the muscleman of Vadodara, a BJP MLA, probing how much money he had paid to Zaheera Shaikh to turn hostile, I admit, I was nervous, but certainly not scared. Looking back, I think I had an innate confidence that the law was ultimately on the side of those who are right. That reassurance kept me, and other journalists, going. I believed that the extremism of the Hindutva brigade was an aberration. That the 2002 riots, the Best Bakery carnage, were aberrations. That right-wing elements indulged in violence only when they were part of a mob. They were cowards. That they were afraid of the law and the courts. That in truth, they were scared of journalists like me and even if they knew who I was, they’d be loath to harm me.

But today, I’ve learnt that the past was truly a different country. Today, I fear for my life and for the lives of my family members. Yesterday, Gauri Lankesh, a courageous and independent journalist, was brutally gunned down in the heart of the city of Bengaluru. There is an eerie pattern. The intensity of threats against rationalists, liberals and free thinkers has increased over the last three years. In some cases, threats have remained confined to social media. While in cases like mine, the threats have been more direct. Dabholkar, CPI(M) activist Govind Pansare and M.M. Kalburgi were all killed in similar circumstances. They were repeatedly targeted on right-wing platforms, they received multiple threats and eventually, they were killed.

Several right-wing groups are active in the country today. Prominent among them are Sanatan Sanstha, Abhinav Bharat, Hindu Janajagruti Samiti, Hindi Rakshak Samiti, Bajrang Dal, Durga Vahini, Sri Ram Sene, Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. The cadres of these groups often overlap. What unites them is the ideology of hate and violence. On their radar are those who are ideologically opposed to them. The CBI raid on Sanatan Sanstha’s offices in Maharashtra led to the discovery of a hit list with names of many journalists and activists. But there was no follow up by the agencies. Several members of Sanatan Sanstha, who are suspected to be involved in bomb blasts in Goa and Maharashtra and murder cases like that of Dabholkar and Pansare, have been on the run for a decade. The bomb makers of the Malegaon and Hyderabad Mecca Masjid blasts have not been caught for ten years.

The UPA may have been incompetent but was not ideologically aligned with these groups. The present regime draws support from these groups. There is an unstated sense of impunity among the hate-mongers. Nothing will happen to them because the government is with them. I witnessed the same impunity among the riot-accused in Gujarat. But that impunity was not absolute. The Supreme Court-monitored investigation led to the arrest and conviction of the likes of Babu Bajrangi, Maya Kodnani and over 100 others. Killer cops were suspended and arrested. My testimony in three riots cases – Gulberg Society, Naroda Gram and Naroda Patiya – and that of hundreds of other witnesses were recorded in court over several weeks, under the protection of central forces. Five years down the line, I am running from pillar to post, pleading with the police and courts to take action against those who are sending me threats. I shudder to think of the plight of witnesses who are living in the same neighbourhood as the accused. They don’t have the means to write columns or approach the Supreme Court.

By brutally killing Lankesh, an outspoken critic of the Hindu Right, the forces of hate have announced – we are no more an aberration, we are the rule. Acts of threatening, violence and even murder are an extremely low-risk affair with almost zero consequences. BJP leaders have issued the expected platitudes. Attempts are being made to paint this as a failing of the state government. While that may be the case, the fact is that the BJP has unbottled a genie of communalism and malevolence, creating the space for lynchings, murders and gruesome crimes to take place.

Ashish Khetan is Chairman of Delhi Dialogue Commission in Delhi government.

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  • Deshaabhimaani Damodardas Subo

    the squads of death are here , and now! why would simple or normal criminals interested in harmless people speaking for a good philosophy and against fascism and reactionary thought?
    it is obvious that the rightist reactionary and neo-fascist, neo-Nazi organizations and their sympathizers have evolved this as a form of strategy, and either hired killers or motivated some from within them to act as killers and provided them with arms and resources, and put in place plans to protect and steer the killers from being discovered by erasing evidence of their own involvement and that of the killers.
    it is possible to find out these type of killers and conspiracies only if the union and state governments wish to do so.
    i do not think any sane person can say that that is the intention of the present union or the state governments of the same configuration. even normal police officers in states ruled by parties different from the ruling bjp or it’s NDA allies would not dare to look deep into the activities of these known killer supporting organizations, as they are pretty sure that their own future career can be in trouble.
    if sanatan sanstha killer or killers have been found, it is because of the feeling of duty in a rare police officer. the complete police force in the country has not yet been ideologically or mentality wise been brought to kow tow the line of the killer organizations. it will take some time to teach sufficient lessons to all the police officers.
    then what is to be done? what has been done in the known history of the struggles of people against fascism and neo fascism, Nazism and neo -Nazism?

    right thinking people, democracy loving people, people committed for rule of law, people committed to protect and preserve the great principles and rights laid down in the constitution of India, in the united nation’s declaration of human rights must come together into different rights organizations, forums, on line and off line.
    they must contribute small amounts regularly and methodically without attracting the attention of government agencies willing to work in favour of policies that support and nurture and protect the killer organizations, so that it would not be easy for them to trace such people contributing to the cause of democracy, rule of law and preservation of constitutional rights and human rights.
    people must also begin talking openly about the growing neo-fascism and these series of killings by neo fascist gangs and organizations and their historical allegiance and conformity with Adolf Hitler, Joseph Goebbels, Benito Mussolini.
    the Indian ideological connection to these people that came all the way from italy and Germany and helped to shape the organizational structure, organization building, propaganda methods, recruitment methods etc. just like we guard our children from drugs etc, parents must guard their young from the poaching of these killer organizations.
    i propose that from now on let us call these as simple killer neo Nazi and neo fascist organizations, naming them only whenever clear evidence comes into open.
    artists and writers should make enough productions how the Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini ran their organizations, expose the organizational structures, expose how they sabotaged their constitutions, how they killed those who opposed fascism, how they campaigned and shamed Jews, killed them, how state and police and army colluded with Adolf Hitler and Mussolini and killed their own innocent people. and they must relate those deeds to what is happeningng now and the killings that have been taking place in India, the evidence discovered against these killer organizations. how those in power now are openly supporting the killers and terrorists against whom sufficient evidence is on record.
    the patriotic elements should also do their best to get into government in different ways possible so that they can support the people working for rule of law and against the killer organizations and neo-fascists and neo-nazis, by strictly but innocuously implementing the legal provisions being violated and sabotaged by members and supporters of these killer organizations.
    i find that many leading elements in these killer organizations are also generally into unsavoury accounting and taxation practises, generally evading taxes or making money through different illegal means or by daadaagiri and rowdyism.
    the good people in India must design and promote avenues to receive information from anonymous sources about the crimes of these killer organizations, their members, sympathizers and supporters, and help to make it public.
    promoting simple principle of rule of law, and constitutional rights it self can be a great and effective tool to counter and expose the people in and behind the killer organizations!
    and we must help the families of the killed persons by caring and supporting them to live a good life.

  • Ashish Khetan has done the right thing by going to Court. It seems very strange that he is denied police protection. This is the sort of situation where a Lok Pal would be useful. The Union Home Ministry should take note that Delhi Police is under their control. If anything happens to Khetan it is a smoking gun which will destroy the legitimacy of the Central Government.

    Of course, it is in all our interests that nothing happens to Khetan and his family. The tiger should not get a taste for human blood.

    Could there not be a crowd funded campaign to provide security to journalists and whistle blowers whose families have been threatened?

  • alok asthana

    True. The death threat of the right wingers is working. After all, how many can stand up to the pressure they are able to bring to bear? Really dangerous to write about these guys nowadays. As for expecting any protection from police etc, जब सैय्याँ भये कोतवाल, तब डर क़ाहे का.