Gauri Day: Commemorating the life of Gauri Lankesh

By Anindita Mukhopadhyay

Several months after the murder of prominent journalist and activist Gauri Lankesh, youth leaders will gather in her hometown, Bengaluru, on 29 January, her birthday. The day will be commemorated as ‘Gauri Day’ with a function at the Town Hall, organised by the Gauri Memorial Trust.

Gauri Lankesh

Gauri Lankesh was the fearless editor of ‘Lankesh Patrike’, a weekly Kannada newspaper started by her famed poet-turned-journalist father, P. Lankesh and later she ran her own weekly called the ‘Gauri Lankesh Patrike’. She was an outspoken critic of right-wing politics and its Hindutva agenda. She had also written extensively against the communal politics and the divisiveness of the Hindu caste system. Lankesh was convicted of criminal defamation in 2016, for an article that she had published in 2008, criticising certain BJP leaders. Raising objections against the exposé, MP Prahlad Joshi and Umesh Dhusi filed individual defamation suits against the journalist, resulting in a six-month sentence and a hefty fine for Lankesh, though she was granted bail immediately.

The senior journalist was shot dead by helmet-clad assailants on motorbikes, who fled the scene immediately. The assassination was the fourth murder in the recent spate of killings of outspoken dissenters. Historian Ramachandra Guha said Lankesh’s murder was a “part of a pattern that links the deaths of (Narendra) Dabholkar, (MM) Kalburgi and (Govind) Pansare”. “The climate of hate and intolerance that has been promoted by this current (BJP) government, aided by television channels and freelance goondas, is complicit in this murder. It is chilling. We are becoming mirror images of Bangladesh and Pakistan, where writers are killed for what they say. This is an attempt to silence all of us, all of those who believe in democracy and decency.”

Gauri Day

The commemorative function will be attended by the Dalit leader Jignesh Mevani and some student leaders from JNU such as Kanhaiya Kumar, Shehla Rashid and Umar Khalid, whom Gauri often regarded as her own children. They will be joined by Richa Singh, a student leader from the Allahabad University, and Radhika Vemula, mother of Rohith Vemula, the Dalit student who committed suicide at the University of Hyderabad. Additionally, journalist and civil rights activist Teesta Setalvad, and veteran actor Prakash Rai will also be present.

The Gauri Memorial Trust backing the event stated the intention behind the gathering as “they will assemble to declare their renewed commitment to uphold a secular and equitable democracy and to remember their fond association with Gauri”. The speakers will be followed by a musical programme, including rap, folk, and classical music. The musical ensemble will be led by musician T.M. Krishna, Sheetal of ‘Kabir Kala Manch’, and Arathi from Bengaluru. In addition, two books – ‘Gauri Hoovu’, a compilation of Gauri’s articles and essays, and a collection of poems penned in her memory – will also be released.

Her legacy

Gauri Lankesh was known for her fearless and honest journalism. But, she was also an activist who practised what she preached, from fighting for social justice to upholding women’s rights. The protests against her cold-blooded murder symbolize the rising collective anger against the climate of fear and intolerance being propagated in the country. Her assassination was perceived as a threat to freedom of speech and the very democratic fabric of the country. However, it has lent cognizance to the necessity of protecting our constitutional values and cultural diversity that have sustained our society for generations. These are the values for which Gauri fought and laid down her life.

The BJP’s contempt for activists can be corroborated by the statement of a BJP member of the Karnataka State Legislature that if Gauri had not criticised the Sangh Parivar, she would still be alive. Furthermore, individuals followed by PM Modi on Twitter condoned the murder of Gauri in an abusive language. While the PM maintained silence, the BJP issued a statement clarifying a ‘principled’ stand on why the supreme leader of the party continued to follow people who have been so vile in their conduct on social media.

However, the women’s rights activist K S Vimala said, “They have killed her because she always opposed communal forces. They can kill her, but they cannot kill her thoughts.”

Featured Image Source: Hari Prasad Nadig on VisualHunt.comCC BY-SA