What shape will Gauri Lankesh’s legacy take?

Nearly two months after her assassination, fewer candles are being lit for Gauri Lankesh while her eponymous paper, Gauri Lankesh Patrike, shows signs of being consigned to history

opinion Updated: Nov 14, 2017 11:15 IST
Preethi Nagaraj
Preethi Nagaraj
New Delhi
Gauri Lankesh,Karnataka,Journalist
Social organizations march for justice for journalists Gauri Lankesh, Panesar Dobhalkar and Kubergi in New Delhi, India, on Thursday, October 5, 2017. (Mohd Zakir/HT File PHOTO)

Nearly two months after her assassination, fewer candles are being lit for Gauri Lankesh while her eponymous paper, Gauri Lankesh Patrike, shows signs of being consigned to history. Should that happen, friends and colleagues of the slain journalist have decided to form a trust to encourage fearless and truthful journalism and continue with activities she believed in.

Though the Lankesh family’s position on the proposed trust (likely to be called ‘Gauri Balaga’ -- the fraternity of Gauri) is as yet not known, activists such as Teesta Setalvad, Jignesh Mevani and others, all Gauri’s long-time friends and admirers, are expected to be part of it.

They would like to revive Gauri’s weekly tabloid and have sent some options for newspaper titles such as Nanu Gauri (I Am Gauri), Navellaroo Gauri (We Are Gauri) and Namma Gauri (Our Gauri) to the registrar of newspapers. They are also considering instituting an annual lecture and a journalism award in her honour. The team is working to consolidate the support base Gauri had in each district of Karnataka as well as raising resources to fund the activities planned by the trust. Groups that would work in each district towards consolidation of resources will be called ‘Gauri Balaga’.

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No sooner than she fell to a hail of bullets her assassins pumped into her body on the evening of September 5, outside her house in Rajarajeshwari Nagar in Bengaluru, the journalist-activist turned into a symbol of resistance worldwide. Her friends and fans on social media still sport her photo as their profile pictures, keeping her alive as it were.

That fateful evening, she had reached home earlier than usual after putting to bed the September 6, 2017, edition of her magazine. She had been having a tough time financially, struggling to keep her publication going. She had just managed to scrape together some money from personal funds for staff salaries, paying them just days before her assassination. The last days were challenging with her reportedly having made a very important decision of accepting government ads that she’d never done before in her life. Her tabloid’s inspiration, her father’s iconic Lankesh Patrike, was totally ad-free. But her death came before that compromise was executed.

Gauri Lankesh Patrike’s last edition, dated September 20, was released at her well-attended commemoration event held on September 12. It featured inter alia an imaginary first-person note on how Gauri would have analysed her own death.

‘I don’t owe anything’

Shiva Sundar, her long-term employee, friend and fellow activist, remembers the conversation they had had hours before she was killed. “I have paid off the salaries with some funds I could put together through some savings; now I don’t owe anything to anyone,” she had laughed. He said. “We were to take a decision on whether we should look for lower operational costs and do something else to bolster our finances, such as bring out a special edition or accept ads, etc. Gauri was contemplating accepting some government ads for the Deepavali special edition. But before that happened, she was killed. She died clean that way. No ads till the end. She is probably happy!”

“She could be local and global at once and usually took care of the lion’s share of work. She planned and commissioned stories, tracked them and worked on translations, stayed active on social media and ensured we had a finger on the pulse of people when we worked on our stories,” he said.

Read more | Gauri Lankesh becomes first Indian journalist to win Anna Politkovskaya Award

She had been worried about the dip in subscriptions, Gauri’s younger sister Kavitha Lankesh, a film director, said. “She was considering leveraging alternate platforms such as a web paper. We don’t know if [she had made up her mind].” The sisters, along with their mother, Indira, had stood with each other through thick and thin.

Today, a still distraught Indira says her fears over Gauri’s safety were not unfounded. She has been invited to take part in Bangalore Literary Festival, to be held on October 28-29. In an interview with a tabloid, she spoke of her charismatic daughter’s influence on her. “She taught me not to be subservient. That I was nobody’s slave, and that I had to stand up for myself, no matter what,” she said, referring to the time when her marriage to her famous writer husband hit a rough patch.

Rift in the family

Sources close to the family say having had to endure the rift between her son, Indrajit, and Gauri, Indira is not so sure about running two papers, while Kavitha wishes to stay the course of her cinematic career. As Kavitha put it: “Gauri singlehandedly managed so many aspects of the paper. None of us has that kind of inclination or bandwidth. After her passing away, we have closed the paper for now and our mother has to take a decision on this. But I do not see … two papers coming out from the same family.”

As of now, Gauri Lankesh Patrike seems to have gone into cold storage. Sources close to the family say Indrajit is keen to close it. “I might ask, why should we run two papers from one family? But then, it is not something I should decide alone,” said Indrajit, who is also a cinema director and television personality. “My sister believed in her journalism more than anything else as an agent to change society. Now that she is gone, we don’t know how to go ahead with her paper. Right now our mother’s well-being is our focus. We are also tracking the progress of the investigation into her death. This is a testing time for us.” He added he was busy with his own paper and TV assignments.

In recent months, he has associated himself with his sister’s bête noire, the Bharatiya Janata Party, and has put forth his future aspirations as a politician too.

During the early days of running their father’s iconic paper together after Lankesh’s sudden death in 2000, Indrajit and Gauri had an ugly falling out, with him accusing her of theft of office computers and she charging him with threatening her with a revolver. He had felt that as a co-editor, he had the right to decide on the kind of approach the tabloid was to take, in terms of engaging with the society. Indrajit had clear objections to Gauri’s increasing proximity to Naxalite issues and activism against communal forces. The acrimony resulted in the siblings going their separate ways and publications in 2005.

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Noor Sridhar, Gauri’s compatriot in her struggles who had identified himself with the Naxal movement in his younger days and who, along with Sirimane Nagaraj, returned to the mainstream years later, said Gauri has now become a global symbol and that her voice has to continue. “She had called a meeting of her team members and people close to her to decide whether the paper should assume a different format to economise operations. But it was decided unanimously it would continue in the same form till the next two elections (assembly and general elections in 2018 and 2019 respectively) are over.”

This set of people, along with friends and well-wishers, have met twice to chalk out the paper’s future and the task, expanse and activities of the proposed trust. But the family has chosen to stay out of all this.

Filmmaker KM Chaitanya, a close childhood friend of Gauri, said the tabloid’s future should be decided with pragmatism and not nostalgia. “Gauri was facing a lot of financial difficulties. I heard she paid the last salary of her staff with some personal funds. Clearly, the crunch had left her drained. She had given so much of herself to this paper that it will definitely feel the lack of that energy. She had built her team from scratch. Every member was aligned to her beliefs and commitment, having imbibed some bit of her. No matter what happens next, she will continue to live in spirit.”

Another old friend, poet and playwright Mamata Sagar, said, “To do something Gauri did or to continue on the same path that she walked on, may not be possible for everyone that loves her. It’s nothing to do with nostalgia. She did what she wanted to. Her core message was to counter fascist forces [and] question the inhuman aspects of this society. The rest of us have to walk the path in our own way than resolving to continue her legacy.”

“It will be good if we can let her rest in peace and create something to address the issues that would make a difference to the society,” Chaitanya agrees. “Basically, find individual ways of addressing issues and counter the forces that silenced Gauri. That way, her work can be carried forward without imitating her blindly and falling short of expectations.”

Whatever the way, the computers in Gauri Lankesh Patrike’s office are being fixed and the wait may end with some concrete decisions by the end of the year. The battle for her legacy has begun and there are interesting times ahead for rational minds in Karnataka.

Read more | Gauri Lankesh killing: Undermining democracy, one writer at a time

(Published in arrangement with GRIST Media)

First Published: Nov 14, 2017 11:13 IST