Gauri Lankesh: She knew in her heart that she was on the side of justice
The brutal murder of journalist Gauri Lankesh is an insurmountable loss to critical journalism in Indiaopinion Updated: Sep 06, 2017 14:55 IST
An insurmountable loss to journalism in India, both in Kannada and in English, the void that Gauri Lankesh leaves behind will be very hard to fill. The daughter of one of Kannada’s greatest writers, she lived up to the legacy of P Lankesh who was a novelist, a playwright, a poet, and a journalist all rolled into one.
When he passed away in the year 2000, Lankesh decided to move quit her job as a journalist in Delhi and move back to Bangalore to carry on the work of her father. He had edited the journal Lankesh Patrike for 20 years from 1980 until his death. Until then she had been writing in English; coming back to Lankesh Patrike was the first time she would be working in Kannada. She learnt quickly, and gave the journal a more sharply political turn reflecting her own spirit of journalism and activism.
Lankesh Patrike has always been an open and frank platform for criticism, and was known for its excellent writing, fearlessly taking on corrupt politicians (across the political divide), the mining lobby, the Hindutva lobby – no one was spared. She was aware of the cult following that the journal had inspired, and she took the responsibility seriously.
She was immensely proud of the fact that the journal had never run a single advertisement and ran entirely on the money raised by willing readers who paid for the weekly journal. She ran a small operation, and even did a lot of the copy editing and proofreading required for the journal. I had even suggested to her that she should approach some of the foundations that are now willing to fund independent journalism, but she never felt inclined to do so.
At the time at which she took over the running of the journal the Hindu right wing was just rising in Karnataka; and she took on that faction boldly. She fought and won the case for the syncretic traditions of the Bababudangiri shrine which also has the Dattatreya temple at Chickmagalur, against a powerful Sangh Parivar lobby.
She was involved in several court cases, for which she travelled across the taluks of Karnataka – her activism was as much on the ground as it was within the pages of her journal. She had earned the trust of some of the Naxal ideologues in Karnataka, even facilitating the surrender of some of them. Her sympathies lay with those who worked for unity and communal harmony, and those who have always got the short end of the stick. She worked with Dalit and women activists, and those who promoted the cause of Hindu-Muslim unity. As a member of the Karnataka Komu Souharda Vedike (Karnataka Forum for Communal Harmony), and a free thinking liberal, her loss is as much a personal one as a public one to the country and to Kannada media.
It is impossible to think of her without remembering her warmth and large-hearted personality. She was a wonderful host, and a rational and sensitive thinker. She was as comfortable with people from small towns as she was with big city journalists. She was a natural journalist, with a constantly curious mind and a strong moral compass. Her work reflected her strong work ethic, and she knew in her heart that she was on the side of justice. Her brutal murder is that much harder to bear because of what she meant to me personally, and for the loss to critical journalism in India.
Chandan Gowda is professor of sociology at the Azim Premji University, Bengaluru
The views expressed are personal