GAURI LANKESH’S SILENCE SHOULD UNITE ALL DEMOCRATS
(Secular Perspective September 16-30, 2017)
Gauri Lankesh’s pen has been silenced by bullets of a coward. Those who killed her do not even have the courage to claim their action. They know they cannot justify their act to anybody and have no support, except a few driven by extreme right wing Hindu supremacist ideology and followed by the Prime Minister on social media like Nikhil Dadhich. Therefore they did their act on sly. Nikhil Dadhich glorified murderous attack on Gauri and calling it death of a bitch in his tweets!
Some kill for conflict over property, some kill for money, some kill in a fit of anger when they feel provoked, some kill for revenge. Those who kill for these aforesaid reasons try to deny their role in order to escape criminal justice system. They hide their identity and run from the law. Gauri was not killed for these reasons as her killer did not want money or property and Gauri did nothing to provoke anyone. Some kill anonymous combatants in an ongoing conflict or war. Gauri was not at war with anyone. Some kill for ideological reasons as a political action. However, after attacking their target, they claim responsibility for their action. Maoists claim their act of killing – as they did after killing Swami Lakshmananda in Kandhamal, Orissa. Muslim terrorist outfits claim their act targeting innocents.
However, Hindu right wing supremacist often do not own up their cowardly attacks – whether abetting and conspiring communal violence or planting bombs or targeting individuals. When Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated by Nathuram Godse, a Hindu nationalist, he tried to disguise as a Muslim with beard etc. A bomb was planted in Margao, Goa on 16th October 2009. Two men identified as Malgondi Patil and Yogesh Naik, were carrying the bagful of country made explosives were reportedly riding a scooter when the blast occurred. Both were immediately taken to Goa Medical College hospital and later two people died. The blast took place near the Grace Church in Margao, where a religious event was being held during which effigies of a mythical demon, Narkasur, were brunt to celebrate the victory of good over evil. Police linked the blast to a right-wing Hindu organization Sanatan Sanstha. They too denied their involvement. Vinod Tawde, member of Sanatan Sanstha has been accused in the murder of Narendra Dabholkar and Govind Pansare. Here too no one organization claimed their act.
Gauri Lankesh’s mission:
Gauri was opposed to Hindu supremacists and Hindutva political ideology. To her, Hinduism was essentially a caste based system of social hierarchy with dalits at the bottom of the hierarchy and women being treated as second class citizens. She opposed Sangh Parivar’s attempts to claim Sufi shrine Guru Dattatreya Baba Budan Dargah. Gauri was of the opinion that Lingayats, followers of Basavanna were not Hindus as they did not subscribe to the Vedas, Upanishads and other scriptures of the religion. To oppose communal politics, she headed Komu Souharda Vedika.
Gauri opposed the ideology of Hindu supremacism and the Sangh Parivar. Gauri’s ideology was left-liberal. She was staunch supporter of freedom of expression. She defended Perumal Murugan, Tamil author, who was viciously attacked by the Hindu right wing forces for his novel “One Part Woman”. The novel was about a childless Hindu couple indulge in consensual sex rituals outside marriage in order to have a child. Gauri pointed out that S. L. Bhyrappa, a novelist from Brahmin caste had written a novel “Parva” on a similar theme of Niyoga practice. Bhyrappa was however spared. Protesters from Hassam Zilla Brahmin Sabha organized a rally against Gauri urging the police to register a criminal complaint against her.
Gauri Lankesh Patrike published an article that criticised the BJP leaders Pralhad Joshi, Umesh Dushi, Shivanand Bhat, and Venkatesh Mestry for cheating a jeweller of rupees one lakh. Although similar allegations had been published in several other newspapers, the BJP leaders preferred to file defamation case only against Gauri Lankesh. Her story was based on sources within the BJP but whom she refused to disclose. She alleged that the defamation case was filed because of political reasons. Gauri was convicted in the case by the trial court but was hopeful of proving her innocence in higher court.
For Gauri, left leaning young activists, including Jignesh Mewani, Kanhaiya Kumar, Umar Khalid and Shela Rashid Shora were like her children and would be invited whenever they were in Bengaluru. From the aforesaid, it is clear that Gauri was opposed to Hindutva politics and her convictions lay in left liberal politics. Maoists joined entire country in condemned her assassination. Whereas those associated with Hindutva politics did not express any remorse. In fact some of them glorified her murder. BJP MLA from Karnataka, D N Jeevaraj remarked that had condemned the “massacre of RSS people”, she would not have been killed. Nikhil Dadhich glorified her death as death of a bitch (sic). Her brother Indrajit first accused Gauri Lankesh in February 2005 to be sympathetic to “Naxalism”. He later pointed accusing figure at the Maoists for her murder.
Impact of Gauri Lankesh’s murder:
Who pulled the trigger and who caused to trigger of the gun to be pulled to assassinate is a matter of investigation by the investigation agencies and we do not want to speculate on that. However, if her murder was not for property or for any personal motives, one cannot but conclude that the assassination was on account of the values and views to which she subscribed viz, democracy; freedom of expression and all other liberties guaranteed in the Constitution of India; equality of all irrespective of caste, religion, creed and gender; social justice; dignity of life for all and above all, humanism. She was never shy of critiquing traditions and customs that were contrary to humanism, equality and social justice. Her murder is a warning to all those who hold similar views and values that they face the same fate.
In the recent past, a section of Lingayats were demanding that they be recognized as a separate religion. On July 19, 2017, in a rally of about 50,000 Lingayats in Bidar, demand was made. They held that Lingayats and Veerashaivas are not the same. Lingayat religion was an independent religion based on the Vachanas or the poetic corpus left behind by Basavanna. Gauri always supported the demand. M M Kalburgi also supported the demand of recognizing Lingayat as a separate religion. Kalburgi was assassinated on October 15, 2015. Hindu supremacists call for Hindu unity. Assassination of Gauri would be perceived as a threat to all those who advocate Lingayat as a separate religion and not part of Hinduism. Reports point out that the bullets used to kill Prof. Kalburgi and Gauri Lankesh are same – 7.65 mm.
Gauri Lankesh’s assassination is perceived by all those who believe in freedom of expression; critiquing beliefs, traditions and customs contrary to equality of all individuals irrespective of caste, class and gender; dignity of all humans and social justice, as an attempt to silence them. However, if the turnout on 12th September, 2017 rally and convention organised by those seeking justice for Gauri Lankesh in Bengaluru is any indication, those who stand up for democracy and freedom of expression have firmly indicated that they would not be cowed down and would not stop writing and expressing themselves and they would not be deterred from expressing their views. That they would carry on, no matter what. Democratic and liberal forces throughout the country responded with resounding slogan of “I am Gauri, you are Gauri, we all are Gauri!” They were seeking justice and end to violence and culture of intolerance.
These violent right wing forces are feeling emboldened since the BJP Government was formed in Delhi. Discharge of Swami Aseemanand, Sadhvi Pragnya Singh, Amit Shah; bail to Col. Purohit, DG Vanzara, were all after BJP Govt. was formed. Lynch mobs of “Gaurakshaks” to emerged under BJP regime. Rohini Salian, public prosecutor in the case of Malegaon bomb blast in 2008 alleged in an interview that she was asked to go slow on the accused. She was removed from the case when she did not oblige. The parents of Mohsin Sheikh wanted to appoint Rohini Salian to prosecute those accused of killing their son in Pune in a communal riot. However, the state of Maharashtra did not oblige and they were forced to go for another public prosecutor.
The state response in filing and prosecuting those responsible for strident and even violent mobilization on allegations of cow slaughter; proclamations and certification of anti-nationals to those who do not agree with Hindu supremacist positions; allegations of love jihad; forcing unwilling people of sing “Vande Mataram” is at best weak and at worst looking the other way. Recently, when prosecutable hate speeches were made in Goa by Sadhvi Saraswati during Hindu conclave organized by Hindu Janjagran Samiti, the Chief Minister of Goa – Manohar Parrikar defended it as freedom of speech! Hindu supremacists organize arms training camps, openly distribute fatal and sharp instruments alleging them to be sacred instruments and feed the trainees with hatred towards those who do not think and live like them. Given this atmosphere of growing intolerance and with organizations giving arms training openly, do we expect trained people filled with hate to abide by law and order? The response of the state emboldens such elements who pulled the trigger of the pistol which killed Gauri Lankesh and others before her.
There is also an atmosphere of anti-intellectualism. Universities are looked upon with contempt. One BJP MLA checked the number of condoms every morning in the dustbins of JNU campus. There was a proposition of placing artillery tank on campuses of universities to convert the students to patriotism by Vice Chancellor of JNU appointed under BJP Govt. Student organization – Ambedkar Periyar Study Circle was banned on IIT campus in Chennai. These are a few instances of anti-intellectualism.
Selective traditions are glorified. Knowledge and scientific attitude and spirit of inquiry, which is so important for the progress of the country is sought to be replaced with pride in the past. While we must know and understand our past, reducing us to worship and glorify our past prepares us to live as backward and conservative people. All the progress that needs to be made was made 2000 years ago or more! We had missiles during Ramayana and Mahabharata, we had known plastic surgery etc. Pride is an instrument which helps those enjoying the privileges of traditions and customs to keep those marginalized, hungry and treated worse than animals in mesmerized state.
What should we do?
Gauri Lankesh’s assassination has brought all the democratic forces which stand up for liberal values, for democratization of culture, particularly equality of gender and caste together. However, in order to sustain long term momentum, we will have to have clearer vision of road map ahead.
Firstly, we must all put in our efforts to ensure justice to Gauri Lankesh. That should be our first priority. Since justice has not been done to Dabholkar, Pansare and Kalburgi, the assassins were emboldened to assassinate Gauri. They will be emboldened to carry on more such assassinations.
Secondly, we will have to dismantle the nuts and bolts of this violent structure and assassination machine. The nuts and bolts are the hate speeches, training camps where participants are trained in weapons and filled with hate ideologies calling minorities as anti-nationals directly or indirectly. If someone needs to take up arms for defence of the country, it is the armed forces and security forces accountable to law. The present government doesn’t seem to be eager to do so. We will have to pressurize them to act in accordance with law.
Thirdly, we will have to invoke egalitarian traditions and propagate about the same. For example, Basvanna, Ravi Das, Kabir, Baba Farid, Bulle Shah, Meera bai, Muktabai, Jana bai, Tukaram, Narsi Mehta. We will also have to talk of rationalist philosophies of Charvakas, Ajivikas, Jainism, Buddhism etc.
Fourthly, we will have to convince people through our campaign the advantages of diversity. India, given such a vast country, almost of the size of a sub-continent with scores of languages, religions, customs and traditions cannot be of monolithic culture. What binds us is the Constitution and the Constitutional vales of liberty, equality and fraternity. Indian Constitution always upheld the values of diversity and multiculturalism. Article 51-A of our Constitution lays that it is a fundamental duty to promote scientific temper and appreciation of composite culture.
Fifthly, we need to democratize our culture. Some of our traditions, particularly the Brahmanical traditions which justify caste based hierarchies and patriarchy are against the values of our Constitution. Recently the Supreme Court rightly outlawed instant triple talaq in one sitting. This momentum must be carried on. Educational institutions play an important role in democratizing culture and embracing diversity. We will have to engage with educational institutions as well.
Eternal vigilance is the price we must pay for democracy and liberty.
Centre for Study of Society and Secularism