What Is To Be Done?

Remembering Gauri Lankesh

Subhash Gatade

It is now history how Gauri Lankesh was assassinated by rightwing Hindutva fanatics outside her home in Rajarajeshwari Nagar on 5 September 2017.

The killing shocked the people of Karnataka and everyone else who believed in a just and equitable society which is based on reason, rationality and scientific temper.

There are many aspects of Gauri Lankesh's life which are inspiring to everyone, the way she abandoned a bright career in English Journalism and opted to continue her father's glorious legacy by writing in Kannada, the way she did not limit herself to writing but also turned to activism, the way she adopted a very daring path of speaking truth to power without fearing for the consequences.

One is rather amazed by the tremendous energy she possessed that she persisted in the struggle against heavy odds, did not give up despite cases being filed against her in different courts of Karnataka for her work of defence of human rights and a consistent opposition to communal politics. A tactics much used by the rightwing forces to deter conscious people from challenging them and to keep them bogged down in cases after cases, in a judicial system where the prolonged process itself becomes a punishment.

In one such case of defamation lodged by a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader, the court had even convicted her and she was out on bail.

One of the remarkable intervention she did in public life pertained to her raising questions about the then Chief Justice of Karnataka's speech at Udupi Mutt–which he had visited at the invitation of Pejavara Swamy, known as one of the founding members of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad. The honourable justice supposedly had talked the language of Hindu Unity there to build a Ram temple.

'When the Eye of Justice is jaundiced’, the title of her intervention itself displayed how she viewed the speech. Her contention was that judiciary in a democracy is 'expected to be independent of not just the legislative and the executive' but also 'be independent of social biases' and when a judge 'displays his/ her biases blatantly' s/he fails miserably.

It is for everyone to see that by her commitment to the cause and the way she evolved into an uncompromising fighter against rightwing extremism, she has touched lives of thousands of people which were evident in the tremendous outpouring of grief on the streets of Bengaluru when she was taken for cremation.

In truth people's anger over her killing in fact further propelled investigation into her murder and the conspiracy behind it hatched by the rightwing religious bigots who consider 'destruction of evil doers as spiritual practice'.

Looking back one just wished one had met her more and learnt from her wide experience in the social field as an activist and a journalist.

 The planned killing of Gauri was the fourth such assassination of activists and scholars within a span of four years executed by the same rightwing formation.

The spree of killings of activists and scholars had its beginning in the year 2013 when Dr Naredra Dabholkr, the legendary anti-superstition activist was killed while he had gone out for a morning walk in Pune which was followed by assassination of well-known Communist Leader Govind Pansare (Feb 2015) in Kolhapur. The third one who fell to their bullets was Prof M M Kalburgi, famous Kannada Scholar, known for his prolific writings (August 2015).

It is true that the killings were basically a message to everyone that the ideas these activists, scholars represented, the work they were doing, was an anathema to those people who wanted to usher India into a majoritarian Hindu Rashtra.

It was a message that whosoever is working to raise the consciousness of people, for propagation of values of reason, rationality, scientific temper and also preparing them to fight inequality, discrimination, obscurantism, mental slavery, sectarianism based on caste, creed, religion, even within the domain of Constitution, has basically no place in their vision of things.

Investigation into Gauri Lankesh's murder had also led to the discovery of the hit list prepared by these fanatics which included names of many leading writers, activists, social workers not only from Karnataka but also outside who had consistently opposed the exclusivist agenda to make religion a basis of nationhood in the 20th Century, who were opposed to turn a Secular Democracy like India, into a Hindu Rashtra.

The topmost name on the list was that of legendary actor, director and public intellectual Girish Karnad.

Today, it is more common to criminalise or stigmatise someone who merely tweets her / his opposition to the powers that be and even send her / him to jail under draconian acts.

The state of affairs in the country can be gauged by the simple fact that in 2021 alone six journalists were killed in India and more than 100 were seriously injured by enemies of freedom of expression.

Ascendant Hindutva Supremacism in its first Avatar rediscovered the phenomenon of lynching–a relic of a bygone era in US society when Blacks were hounded by White Supremacists–when many innocents belonging to religious minorities–namely Muslims–and social minorities–namely Dalits and Adivasis were lynched merely for the suspicion of carrying beef or were badly wounded.

With its second coming at the centre, lynching has not only been normalised but today open calls for genocide of the 'others', the religious and social minorities, in so- called Dharm Sansads, have become more common, with the judiciary either turning a blind eye or not rising to the expectations of people seeking justice and enforcing implementation of rule of law according to Constitution.

In today's India the whole idea of justice is being turned on its head where bulldozer has emerged as the new dispenser of justice, where throwing all judicial procedures to the winds, police and administration are found to be engaged in literally bulldozing houses and shops of sections of people–who are already under assault of majoritarian storm troopers.

 People who were convicted for gang rape of Bilkis Bano and her close relatives and murder of thirteen people and were punished for life imprisonment were released by the state of Gujarat prematurely by clearly violating the necessary procedures involved and with the central government turning a blind eye to this act, what irked people further was the way in which they were garlanded and even felicitated.

What people are witnessing today is unprecedented in independent India's 75 years of tortuous journey, where weaponising of institutions and the judiciary's rather pusillamanious behaviour on occasions at various levels has not only made any sustainable resistance to it–at the electoral level, as well as at the social level–difficult.

A new feature of the present state of affairs is not that the persons in authority are ready to pounce upon any dissenting voice but there are hordes of people–reminiscent of the storm troopers in Nazi Germany–who are acting as the extended hand of the government.

Critics tend to compare the situation with the internal emergency clamped by the Indira Gandhi regime but normally forget to underline the qualitative difference between then and now.

Question arises what should be done today?

The first and foremost thing is to be fearless, Nirbhaya.

Everybody should bear in mind what the legendary activist across the border Sabeen Mahmood had written somewhere: 'Fear is just a line in your head, You can choose what side of that line you want to be'. Sabeen Mahmood was similarly assassinated by Islamists with due support from Pakistan's deep state, merely two years before Gauri's murder, for daring to raise questions and prepare an atmosphere of debate and discussion and dialogue in the country.

Illusion of any sorts among thinking people in this part of world will be disastrous in the long run.

For one thing fascination for Hindu Rashtra is not limited to RSS or various Hindutva activists; its fascination exists among what can be called as liberal sections also.

 The idea that if Jews can have their nation, Muslims can have their nation has a deep resonance even among a section of otherwise liberal Hindus.

The third important feature of the unfolding situation which is evident elsewhere as well is the fact that with deepening of democracy in the country, with democracy becoming more vigorous, it has facilitated emergence and strengthening of majoritarian forces through those very democratic route, which themselves are hell bent on weakening, subverting of that route and hollowing out of the various institutions.

A fourth important feature of the present juncture is the unholy alliance of Champions of Hindu Rashtra and crony capitalism is in full view today. It is not for nothing that leading opposition party claims that it is a government of 'Hum Do, Hamare Do'–alluding to the dominance of the Modi -Shah at the political level and likes of Adani and Ambani at the level of economy.

The first and foremost thing should be to give an electoral defeat to these forces of exclusion, hatred.

For this to happen it is important that political formations–who still believe in the Vision of the Constitution and are opposed to India becoming a Hindu Rashtra should build broad based alliances.

It is clear that an electoral victory to formations with a pluralist, inclusive agenda cannot be long lasting unless the deep rooted biases in the social mind are cleansed. For this to happen it is important that work at social–cultural level is also enhanced in very many ways.

With thousands of schools propagating its agenda–right from the Ekal Vidyalaya at the grassroots level where the single teacher himself–who also doubles up as an activist of the formation–to top institutions , it has been possible for the rightwing forces to carve out an entire generation according to their own agenda of exclusion.

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Vol 55, No. 13, Sep 25 - Oct 1, 2022