‘I am also Gauri’: Bengaluru journalist’s murder sparks protests, condemnation
The killing of journalist Gauri Lankesh by gunmen outside her residence in Bengaluru “raises alarm” about the state of freedom of expression in the country, Amnesty International India has said.
The killing of journalist Gauri Lankesh provoked outrage and anguish across the country on Wednesday, with thousands protesting what they saw as an effort to silence a critic of Hindutva groups.
Even as police promise to hunt down the assailants who gunned down Lankesh outside her Bengaluru home on Tuesday night, many said they feared the perpetrators of the attack — like so many others — would get away with impunity.
Spontaneous rallies erupted in cities and towns across India on Wednesday. Protesters demanded the government do more to protect free speech in the secular democracy.
In Bengaluru, thousands gathered for a public vigil and the viewing of Lankesh’s body at Town Hall.
Weeping, they filed slowly past her glass-covered coffin. Some carried placards that read “I am also Gauri.”
Others held banners that said: “You can kill the person; but not her ideas” and “Voices of dissent cannot be stifled by the barrel of the gun”.
Lankesh, 55, was the editor of the independent Kannada-language magazine “Lankesh Patrike”. In November, she was found guilty of defaming lawmakers from the Centre’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party in a 2008 story. She said the case was politically motivated and vowed to challenge her conviction in a higher court.
Wave of protests
Print and electronic journalists in Chennai took out rallies, shouted slogans and demanded the arrest of heLankesh’s killers. They said the killing was “an affront on the freedom of expression”.
Journalists’ organisations Maharashtra, including those in Mumbai, strongly condemned the killing. The Mumbai Press Club (MPC), the Mumbai Marathi Patrakar Sangh (MMPS), the Mantralaya Ani Vidhimandal Vartahar Sangh (MVVS), the TV Journalists Association (TVJA) and others, in separate statements, expressed outrage.
“If this is how the Fourth Estate is going to be treated by the powers that be, while the government looks the other way, it is indeed a black hour for Indian democracy,” said the MPC.
Outraged, prominent journalists from across Delhi gathered at the Press Club of India, and demanded justice amid call for standing up to “forces” trying to the “muzzle” the voices of dissent.
Similar protests were held in Hyderabad, Thiruvananthapuram and Kolkata, among other cities.
The US embassy in New Delhi also condemned the killing.
Congress president Sonia Gandhi said it was a chilling reminder that “intolerance and bigotry is raising its ugly head in our society”.
Her son and party vice president Rahul Gandhi, senior leader P Chidambaram, Punjab chief minister Amarinder Singh and party spokesperson Abhishek Singhvi also expressed shock at the killing.
The BJP, for its part, accused Rahul Gandhi of trying to make “political capital” out of Lankesh’s murder and rejected as “irresponsible and baseless” the allegations linking the killing to the people following its ideology.
Karnataka chief minister Siddaramaiah also announced a SIT probe, to be headed by inspector general-level officer in the matter, saying his government had an “open mind” to an investigation by the CBI.
String of attacks
Her killing was the latest in a string of similar attacks in recent years targeting writers, artists and scholars who faced a backlash for criticising Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government or the BJP.
“The silencing of a journalist in this manner has dangerous portents for Indian democracy,” said Shobhana Jain, the president of Indian Women’s Press Corps.
In 2015, scholar Malleshappa M Kalburgi was shot dead at his Bengaluru home, following death threats from right-wing Hindu groups after he criticised idol worship and superstitious beliefs by Hindus.
Earlier that year, writer and anti-superstition crusader Govind Pansare was shot dead while taking a walk with his wife near their home in Maharashtra. And in another daytime attack in 2013, two assailants shot anti-superstition activist Narendra Dabholkar dead while he was out for a walk in the Maharashtra city of Pune.
On Wednesday, the Indian Writer’s Forum called Lankesh’s murder “a chilling continuation” of the killings of Dabholkar, Pansare and Kalburgi and pledged to continue Lankesh’s fight against the “haters of free speech”.
Police have arrested a suspect in Pansare’s murder who has been released on bail. Another suspect is in custody in the Dabholkar case. But no one has yet been prosecuted in any of the three cases.
“We will continue to speak on her behalf and ours. They cannot silence us all,” the Forum said in a statement.
In the line of fire
Some said they feared the killing was evidence that the space for democratic opinion was shrinking in India.
The message is, “if you do not fall in line, you will be executed”, said Ananya Vajpeyi of the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies. “Gauri Lankesh’s murder last night was more than the killing of an individual; it was an assault on the freedom of the press, on the right to dissent and on democratic citizenship.”
The Committee to Protect Journalists has often rebuked India for its poor record in safeguarding journalists, particularly those covering small-town corruption.
Out of 27 cases of journalists who were killed for their work in India since 1992, none have led to any convictions, the group said.
“India needs to address the problem of impunity in journalist murders and ensure the press can work freely,” said the group’s Asia coordinator Steven Butler in Washington DC.
The recent growth of social media has made threats even more common, opening new arenas for people to verbally attack and threaten journalists with relative anonymity.
Writers who criticise the government have become the target of troll armies. Women journalists, in particular, are frequently threatened with rape and acid attacks.
Lankesh’s brother, Indrajit, has demanded that her murder be investigated by the Central Bureau of Investigation without political interference.
“We have seen what happened with police investigations into the killing of Kalburgi” — a case that remains unsolved, he said.