On September 5, 2017, a certain Gauri Lankesh was shot dead pointblank by three helmet wearing ‘unknown assailants’ on motorbikes at 8 pm just as she was unlocking the main door of her home in Bangalore’s Rajeshwari Nagar. She was returning home from work. She died on the spot. So what? What’s the big deal about murdering a certain Gauri Lankesh? After all aren’t women, across the length and breadth of this once upon a time great nation,(whose culture and ethics it was, until not too long ago, to respect women), being either heinously raped, mentally, physically and emotionally harassed and violated even at work places and their own homes, and in public, or even burnt for dowry? Don’t Fathers vent their voracious sexual deprivation and hunger through their own daughters? Don’t Mothers consent to their own daughters being the medium through which men satiate their sexual gluttony, especially if money compensates that consent? What is special about this Gauri Lankesh? Who is she?
Gauri Lankesh was until just the other day, an Indian journalist-turned-activist from Bangalore. Why was she killed? Who killed her? We might, or most probably might not even know. Especially the latter question. But then, would it make an earthshaking difference if we really do come to know? People meet with this kind of gory death when they have enemies, who love to have them doused because something about them leaves the murderers insecure, plain scared, and cowardly at the very thought of their existence. What crime did Gauri commit, to earn that kind of enmity that longed to see her dead and gone?
Probably, (we don’t know as yet!), it was because she put people through substantial discomfort, ill-ease and inconvenience by opposing the Sangh Parivar’s attempts to Hinduise the Sufi shrine Guru Dattathreya Baba Budan Durgah located at Baba Budan giri in 2012, or, because she participated in a protest demanding ban on communal groups in Mangalore, when she stated that ‘Hinduism was not a religion, but a system of hierarchy in society, in which, ‘women are treated as second-class creatures’. Or because she endorsed minority religion tag for the Lingayat community and headed the Komu Souharda Vedike, a communal harmony platform for oppressed communities. Or because she was also of the view that the followers of philosopher Basavanna were not Hindus, or because she openly criticized the caste system. In 2015, some Brahmins accused her of criticizing the novelist S.L.Bhyrappa and Brahmanism. So she was an activist, who had clearly crossed the Lakshman Rekha! And she paid for it dearly! She was indeed a heretic to many.
In her own tweets over the last 24 hours prior to her murder, she mostly shared web links, including a report on the Supreme Court asking the government why it wanted to deport the Rohingya refugees. India has been receiving Rohingya refugees from Myanmar since 2008.they arrived in large numbers in 2012, when anti-Rohingya persecution intensified in neighboring Myanmar. According to figures shared by a NGO-The Development and Justice Initiative (DAJI), that works with the UNHCR, and based on the data available with the UNHCR, there are about 10,000 Rohingya refugees living in India, of which around 5,700 live in and around Jammu in Indian-administered Kashmir. Some sources claim the number could be significantly higher. But from early February, the Rohingya refugees came to notice billboards citing ‘Rohingyas, Bangladeshis, quit Jammu’. They exhorted the residents “to wake up…..save history, culture and identity of Dogras”- referring to the Hindu majority community of Jammu. It is widely believed that Harsh Dev Singh, the leader of a right-wing Hindu political party, the Jammu and Kashmir National Panthers Party, who had made public statements about a conspiracy to engineer demographic changes through the Rohingyas, to be the mastermind behind the billboards.
She was also known for advocating freedom of the press.
Karnataka Law minister TB Jayachandra drew parallels between gauri’s gory murder to the murder of renowned scholar MM Kulbargi in 2015.
Malleshappa Madavilappa Kalburgi was a scholar of Vachana Sahitya, and an academic who served as Vice Chancellor of Kannada University in Hampi. A noted epigraphist of Kannada, he was awarded the National Sahitya Akademi Award in 2006 for Marga 4, a collection of his research articles. In 2014, he had spoken against superstitions in Hinduism, which some misinterpreted as being against idolatry in Hinduism. In June 2014, addressing a seminar on anti- superstition Bill in Bangalore, he cited U.R. Ananthamurthy’s 1996 book Bethale Puje yake Kuradu (why nude-worship is wrong). He was a rationalist, and he had crossed the Lakshman Rekha, and he paid for it badly! On August 30, 2015, two motorbike-borne men arrived at his home in the Kalyan Nagar locality of Dharwud, and knocked at the door. The two posed as Kalburgi’s students. Kalburgi’s wife, Umadevi after answering the door, went inside to fetch them coffee. That is when one of the ‘students’ opened two rounds of fire pointblank at Kalburgi. After the ‘deed’, the two escaped on their bike. The injured Kalburgi was taken dead to the Dharwud District Civil Hospital, and cremated in Dharwud the next day.
‘Investigations’ by a special team of five inspectors could only get as close to a CCTV footage of two youth aged 24-28, wearing black clothes riding a bike, and two empty cartridges and an improvised firearm with 7.65 caliber bullets from the crime scene. The ‘investigations’ which got nowhere ‘for want of eyewitnesses’ was handed over to the CBI, where it remains in the premier investigation organization’s deep freezer.
There were two more similar killings in Maharashtra, that of Govind Pansare and Narendra Debholkar in 2015 and 2013 respectively.
Narendra Achyut Debholkar was an Indian medical doctor, rationalist and author from Maharashtra. In 1989 he founded and became the president of the Maharashtra Andhashraddha Nirmoolan Samiti (MANS), the committee formed to eradicate superstition in Maharashtra.
After working as a doctor for 12 years, Dabholkar took to social work in the 1980s. He was involved with movements for social justice such as Baba Adhav’s Ek gaon Ek Panotha (one village-one well) initiative. He gradually shifted his focus to eradication of superstition, and joined the Akhil Bharatiya Andhashraddha Nirmoolan Samiti (ABANS). In 1989 he founded MANS, and campaigned against superstition in Maharashtra, which had him confront dubious tantriks and self-acclaimed ‘holy men’ who promised ‘miracle cures’ for ailments. He criticized the country’s God men. He was the founding member of parivartan, a social action centre located in Satara District that worked ‘to empower the marginalized in the community to lead lives of security, dignity and prosperity’. He was closely associated with the Indian rationalist Sanal Edamaruku, and was editor of renowned Marathi weekly, Saadhana. In 2010, he made several failed attempts to get anti-superstition law enacted in the state of Maharashtra. Under his supervision, MANS drafted the anti- jaadu Tona bill (Anti-Superstition and Black Magic Ordinance), which was opposed by political parties like the BJP and the Shiv Sena, which claimed it would adversely affect Hindu culture, customs and ‘traditions’. Critics accused him of being ‘anti-religion’, which he denied by claiming his movement was against fraudulent and exploitative practices, and not against freedom of worship espoused by the constitution.
He faced several threats and assaults since 1983, but rejected police protection.
On August 20, 2013, while on a morning walk, Dabholkar was fired upon pointblank by two ‘unidentified’ gunmen, who fled on a motorbike parked nearby, near Omkareshwar temple, Pune. He died on the spot. He, as an activist had crossed the Lakshman Rekha, and he paid for it dearly!
A PIL filed by an activist ketan Tirodkar urged the case be investigated by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) instead of by the state police, which could not be trusted. The investigations made no headway, and the murder remains unsolved till date.
Incidentally, triggered by his murder, the pending Anti-Superstition and Black Magic Ordinance was promulgated in Maharashtra four days later. In 2014, he was posthumously awarded the PadmaSri for social work; big deal!
Govind Pansare was leftwing politician of the Communist Party of India (CPI).He used to run an organization which encouraged inter-caste marriages. He opposed the Putrakameshti yagna, a Hindu ritual performed for the sake of having a son. He protested against toll taxes, and he criticized the glorification of Nathuram godse, the assassin of Mahatma Gandhi. He also supported the passing of the Anti-Superstition and Black magic Act, the brainchild of Dabholkar, after whose murder, he encouraged the members of the Maharashtra Andhashraddha Nirmoolan Samiti to continue the work of Dabholkar. On 16 February, 2015, Pansare and his wife Uma were returning home after a walk at 9.25 am. As they were about to reach their house, two men on a motorcycle shot five times at them pointblank. Both were taken to Aster Adhar Hospital, where they were operated, and seemed to recover. However, Pansare, following lung complication was airlifted to Breach Candy Hospital, where he succumbed. He, as an activist too seemed to cross the Lakshman Rekha, and he paid for it dearly! His wife thankfully survived. On September 16, 2015, a certain Sameer Gaikwad, who owned a mobile phone service center was arrested. He seemed to resemble one of the assailants caught on the CCTV footage. He had been the member of Sanatha Sanstha group since 1998.Sanatha Sanstha is a right-wing radical Hindu group that claims to be a registered non-government ‘charitable trust’. The police also arrested four more persons, a woman from Mumbai, presumed to be Gaikwad’s girlfriend, a man from Pune, and two men from Goa. However, though rewards from 5-25 lakhs were announced for information of the attackers, none were forthcoming, and the case, like the aforesaid ones still remains unresolved in the deep freezer along with India’s other numerous crimes.
The aforesaid murders, including the most recent one- that of Gauri Lankesh have many similarities:
- The murdered were all activists, fighting against well-entrenched practices, mired in superstition, and which defied scientific endorsement, involving conservative Hindu ‘tradition’ (the Hinduism I know of is sublime and vastly tolerant and all-embracing, and one that requires no services in the form of protection or rather bolstering or even assertion through cowardly acts of anti-nationals).people who kill fellow citizens within a nation are undoubtedly anti-nationals; aren’t they? For the simple fact that they have breached the nation’s law by taking the life of a fellow citizen.
- The murderers operated on motorbikes which were used to approach their targets and to flee from the scene. They masked their identity by wearing black cloth and helmets, and used indigenous firearms.
- None of the murders have been brought to a tenable or tangible conclusion. The murderers, not even on the run, continue to cohabitate in the society (which they so effectively succeeded in taking apart most cruelly), along with the dear and near of those they so dastardly murdered.
Apart from the similarities, what do these coldblooded murders unveil? They unveil quiet a lot of unsettling facts that and qualities of the murderers that slowly but surely infiltrate into Indian nationhood, like cancer-quietly, unheralded, yet precisely, and successfully. These murders unveil and lay bear:
- Intolerance– Intolerance of those who are supposed be at the helm of governance to being questioned, to being defied. Intolerance to being in disagreement, to expression of dissent and differences of opinion, which is a dangerous thing to have in a nation that seems to be treading an unchartered, wayward trail being left behind by self-acclaimed, indoctrinated bigots and their henchmen-who are nothing but religious fundamentalists, on issues that were never on the national agenda or priority in the first place- issues that contributed absolutely nothing to the well-being of Indians, in the second- issues that contributed only to tear asunder and to divide, rather than to heal, in the third. Is this the ‘new India’ dreamt of by Prime Minister Modi?
- Cowardice– the modus operandi of every murder was those adopted by the trepid, the weak-kneed, and the cowardly. They, instead of taking on their targets, (all of them soft sitting ducks), eyeball-to-eyeball, like men of convention, spine and belief in themselves and their convictions usually do, chose to operate in the darkness of night or relative calm of early morning hours, wearing black cloth and helmets to hide their identity, and flee on motorbikes, as only cowards can. Indeed, isn’t it how coldblooded murderers and assassins operate? But, if they are convinced about their motive to snuff out voices that question them, or chose to disagree with them, why don’t they, in open fora choose to ‘sort things out’, instead of choosing the easy way out-that to silence them in the dark? Didn’t Godse and the Sikh body guards of Gandhiji and Indira Gandhi respectively have the guts to do their ‘deed’ in broad daylight, convinced of their conviction, taking responsibility for their dark deeds through which they stood by their convictions, however skewed they might have been?, unlike these modern-day zealots, who choose to hit and run in the most cowardly manner?
- Insecurity– those who murdered the above four, and those who masterminded them exposed the insecurity within them, and the convictions and beliefs they seemed to invest everything in! If it is Hindu extremists who killed the four (as some believe), they showed a great religion like Hinduism in its worst insecure form, damaging it badly in the process.
- Fear– all of them feared something. They feared lack of inbuilt strength and wherewithal to counter whatever they found irritating or inconvenient.
- Prevalence of the very practices that people like Pansare, Debholkar and Gauri fought against have been confirmed by attempts to do away those who questioned them. Why should people who believe in the existence of certain evils and practices, and decide to fight them be killed, if they don’t really exist?
- Dearth of credible investigation and befitting punishment. None of these murders have been properly investigated. The assailants, and their masterminds are still at large and unpunished, which encourages their tribe.
What does the practice of snuffing out dissent and disagreement achieve?
They serve to undermine a number of pillars on which India has been presenting herself proudly before the comity of nations. Murder of the four, also murdered the following:
- Democracy. India spares no opportunity to call itself ‘world’s largest democracy’. Health of a democracy does not depend only on numbers, but also in the manner in which it is conducted and nurtured. These murders truly do expose the weakness of Indian democracy, and places it in a cesspool of religious fundamentalism, naked indoctrination and anti-nationalism to the core. Democracy in which voices of dissent are snuffed out and doused, and in which Lakshman Rekhas are drawn only represents its weakness!
- Freedom of the press and freedom to voice opinion. Gauri was a journalist and represented the fourth estate. Her murder murdered freedom of the press. George Orwell had rightly commented “freedom of the press,
If it means anything at all,
Means the freedom to criticize and oppose”.
Gauri’s murder and those of the others sullied that freedom.
- Freedom to express opinion. By murdering the four, including Gauri, the murderers, whose identity India is in the dark about, choked that freedom-those in authority seem to be condoning attempts to throttle freedom to express opinion, a clime about which Albert Einstein commented thus: “blind belief in authority is the greatest enemy of truth”. Salmon Rushdie couldn’t have put it more appropriately when he says “what is freedom of expression? Without the freedom to offend, it ceases to exist”.
- Plurality. The unique ability of India to exist as a single nation, as stressed by Ramachandra Guha in the Enemies of the Idea of India that: “India incorporates a greater variety of religions (whether born in its soil or imported) than any other nation in human history”. This great Indian quality has been called to question through Gouri and others’ murders.
Where then does is this habit of resorting to the easy way out to counter dissent by simply killing people who dare question and express dissent lead India and her citizenry?
Indians are fast losing their faith in the Idea of India, as drawn up by the country’s founding fathers, and those who spilt their blood, sweat and tears for its unique nationhood, the health of which is the most significant catalyst for the morbid hatred and even disgust India’s neighbors, Pakistan and China seem unable to live with! . Indian ‘Democracy’, probably is, for the first time since independence is being doubted. Its resilience, its strength, come what may, have been badly dented.
The nation, as of now seems to be rightly gearing up for a second freedom struggle. This time, not from external aggressors, but from the enemy within, an enemy that denies its own citizens a credible democracy, freedom of expression, freedom to express dissent, disagreement, free thought and opinion by limiting them within the Lakshman Rekhas as permitted by the ‘authorities’(read the governing). That is exactly what the blood of Gauri Lankesh that was spilt on the nation’s soil, along with that of Kalburgi,Pansare and Debolkhar exhorts Indians to struggle for, and wrest from the powers-that-be.