Doughty fighter (1962-2017)

A strident voice that always spoke out for the marginalised sections of society, a vibrant personality who was always in the thick of social causes, a valiant journalist whose writings stung corrupt politicians like a whiplash and also lambasted moth eaten beliefs, has been silenced forever. Gauri Lankesh, the 55-year-old editor of the Kannada tabloid Gauri Lankesh Pathrike was shot dead by unidentified assailants in front of her house in Bengaluru on 5 September 2017, and her killing evoked protests all over the country.

The Karnataka government has since formed a Special Investigation Team to probe her killing. Armed with a post graduate degree in journalism, Gauri worked with a leading English newspaper chain, a pioneering weekly published from Kolkata and then a leading Telugu news channel, before she took over the reins of the Kannada tabloid Lankesh Patrike started by her father P. Lankesh. Lankesh was a phenomenon in Kannada literature and was a revolutionary poet and an acclaimed writer. The weekly tabloid had a history of unbiased, investigative reporting and was dreaded by politicians who had skeletons in their cupboards.

After Lankesh’s death in 2000, Gauri edited the weekly for some time till a tiff with her brother saw her relinquish her post and start a new tabloid Gauri Lankesh Patrike which she helmed till her death. The tabloid however had a limited reach, had financial problems due to the dearth of ads and circulation, and like all tabloids, often indulged in sensationalism. At the time of her death Gauri had been released on bail after having been sentenced to six months in jail in a defamation suit filed against her by a BJP MP and others whom she had accused of unlawful activities.

Gauri Lankesh was however a multi-faceted personality. Not only did she make the switchover from English to Kannada journalism with ease, she also dabbled in other activities like poetry, writing books etc. But it was her relentless crusade against exploitation of the poor and the downtrodden, and her uncompromising stance on issues she believed in that catapulted her to centre stage. She also made common cause with student leaders of institutions like the JNU who found in her a kindred spirit. She not only lent them a sympathetic ear, but also guided and mentored them and made them channelise their energies in the right direction.

Gauri’s leftist leanings turned her into a fierce critic of right-wing politics and she minced no words while writing or orating on organisations like the RSS and its affiliates, and this earned her the wrath of the Sangh Parivar in no small measure. The activist however carried on undaunted, and used every forum available to her to train her guns on the right wing zealots. She remained faithful to her ideology till the very end, highly critical of the caste system, stood up for the freedom of speech and a free press, abhorred gender discrimination, and was unflinching in her denunciation of the totalitarian politics of the BJP.

Gauri always believed that naxalism was a product of economic inequalities, and worked tirelessly towards ensuring that naxalites gave up their violent ways and returned to the mainstream. She coordinated with like-minded sympathisers of the extremist cause and was successful in rehabilitating a few leaders of the movement. In the process she had antagonised some hard core members resulting in some bad blood between her and them.

The firebrand activist was a rationalist at heart, and in deference to her irreligious nature, she was laid to rest without any kind of rituals. The Karnataka state government however accorded her full state honours. The story of Gauri Lankesh is that of a woman with an independent mind, courageous even in the face of continuous threats, driven with a passion to serve as a voice for the voiceless, a doughty fighter for the causes she believed in and espoused, and a fearless journalist who had unwavering faith in the power of the pen.

– C. V. Aravind is a Bangalore-based freelance journalist.