Gauri Lankesh murder: Activists, seers, litterateurs protest in Bengaluru

Anti-right slogans were raised as people from all walks of life — including social activists, litterateurs, religious leaders and politicians — marched to pay their respects to the deceased journalist.

india Updated: Sep 12, 2017 22:23 IST
Vikram Gopal
Vikram Gopal
Hindustan Times, Bengaluru
Gauri Lankesh,Bengaluru rally,Medha Patkar
Thousands of people participate in a public rally held to condemn journalist Gauri Lankesh’s murder in Bengaluru on Tuesday.(Arijit Sen/HT Photo)

Bengaluru echoed with slogans on Tuesday, when thousands of people who had rubbed shoulders with journalist Gauri Lankesh in a lifetime of social activism marched together to condemn her murder exactly a week ago.

Lankesh, who also doubled as a vocal anti-right activist, was shot dead by unidentified people while she was entering her residence in the city on September 5. The state government has formed a special investigation team (SIT) to probe the case.

The rally began from the Krantiveera Sangolli Rayanna railway station in the heart of the city and culminated at the Central College ground, where a convention was held. The slogan ‘I am Gauri’ was raised throughout.

At the convention, which police said was attended by at least 3,000 people, the organisers released a commemorative edition of the Gauri Lankesh Patrike – her weekly tabloid – featuring articles by people who recalled their earliest memories of the deceased journalist. Indira, Lankesh’s mother, saluted all the participants by declaring: “I welcome all the Gauris who have come here.”

Narmada Bachao Andolan activist Medha Patkar was among the thousands who came to pay their respects to Lankesh. “This is not a condolence meet,” she said. “We are here to show that we are united, strong. Only when we have a convention condemning the lives that have been taken in the name of development can we have justice.”

Patkar was referring to the impending launch of the Sardar Sarovar dam project on the Narmada river.

Protesters hold placards to condemn the murder of journalist Gauri Lankesh at the Central College ground. (PTI photo)

K Neela, who hails from the All India Democratic Women’s Association, said Lankesh’s life was a never-ending battle against injustice in all forms. “She fought against caste inequality, she fought to uphold our Constitution. I want to tell her killers that you can aim your bullets at our forehead, but you cannot kill our ideas,” she added.

Speaker after speaker took potshots at the Hindutva ideology, dubbing it as the reason for the rising climate of hatred and fear in the country. “In May 2014 (when the NDA won by a landslide), I cried with Gauri not in desperation but out of concern for the direction our country was taking,” said activist Teesta Setalvad. “But Gauri stood for a culture of questioning, and no majoritarian power can take that away from us.”

Writer Devanur Mahadeva said the “dreams of our Independence” are being systematically destroyed by governments that promote capitalism and a culture of hatred. “What do we do when such governments try to make the past our present?” he asked.

Indira, the mother of journalist Gauri Lankesh, breaks down in the course of the rally as activist Teesta Setalvad consoles her. (Arijit Sen/HT Photo)

Sitaram Yechury, general secretary of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), lamented the change in India’s ethos that has ushered in times such as these. “Gauri Lankesh’s murder is not an isolated incident,” he said. “Before this, we lost (Narendra) Dabholkar, (Govind) Pansare and (MM) Kalburgi. We have gau rakshaks who are being set on Dalits and Muslims. We have the moral police telling us what to eat, wear and who to befriend. This is the beginning of authoritarianism and totalitarianism, which is the antithesis of our idea of India.”

Journalist P Sainath, however, saw a silver lining in the number of people who turned up for the event. “This will be a stirring chapter in the fight-back against the culture of intolerance and hatred,” he said, but issued a warning that the road ahead will not be easy. “What we are up against is the largest machinery of hatred seen since the partition of the country. Perhaps greater, because it has spread to many more states and regions.”

Reading from ‘Where do they go, the dead?’, a poem he had written in 1989, litterateur Chandrashekar Patil said Lankesh had not gone anywhere. “She has become an intrinsic part of all of us here,” he proclaimed.

CPI(M) leader Sitaram Yechuri (right) and social activist Medha Patkar (third from left) raise the ‘I am Gauri’ cry at Central College ground in Bengaluru. (Arijit Sen/HT Photo)

The rally was also attended by many seers, notably those from the Lingayat sect who are demanding separation from mainstream Hinduism.

Veerabhadra Chennamalla Swami, the seer of Nidumamidi Mutt, said Lankesh was “martyred by the proponents of Hindutva terror”. He also criticised the direction the country was taking, noting that “its future cannot be built on the foundations of hatred”.

Lingayat seer Nijagunanda Swami said it was futile to expect justice from the supporters of Hindutva. “Can those who pulled at Draupadi’s sari, who asked Sita to undergo trial by fire, who chased away the Buddha, give us justice?” he asked.

The seer also dubbed the people who gunned down Gauri as cowards. “They attack from behind, but we face them baring our chest,” he said.

A memorandum calling on the government-constituted SIT to expedite the probe into Lankesh’s murder was also issued at the convention. It also wanted those celebrating the journalist’s death on the social media to be booked for incitement.

First Published: Sep 12, 2017 19:23 IST