Gauri Lankesh, a prominent Kannada journalist and a vehement critic of communal politics of the BJP government, was gunned down at her doorstep in Rajarajeswari Nagar in Bangalore by some unknown assailants. She worked as an editor in Lankesh Patrike, a Kannada weekly started by her father P. Lankesh and ran her own weekly called Gauri Lankesh Patrike. She was known as a fearless journalist and activist who opposed communalization of politics, casteism, and marginalization of minorities in the society. Her forceful advocacy on behalf of Rohingya people is a true manifestation of her deeply held convictions. Death threats or intimidation from any quarters never stopped her from confronting the ever increasing challenges to the freedom of expression by the media, the fourth estate. Undoubtedly, journalists, opinion makers, and reporters are being increasingly targeted by Hindu nationalists who are on a crusade to promote their hateful agenda. In the last few years, journalists who appear to be critical of Hindu nationalists have been threatened, berated on the social media, while many women journalists have been threatened with rape and assault. India has just celebrated its 70th anniversary of its independence.
The Democratic Institutions that were created under the Nehruvian vision are increasingly under threat from right-wing forces that are closely aligned with BJP. The fundamental right to express one’s opinion is under assault as either sedition charges are filed against the individuals or the institution that exercise those rights or the law enforcement mechanism is being manipulated to intimidate and silence those voices. Gauri Lankesh’s death appears to be a meticulously planned and executed to silence a powerful voice. The opposing forces could not match her rationale pointing up the dangers of right-wing politics and its possibly disastrous effect on the secular fabric of the nation. Her harsh criticism of prevailing casteism in the society was often directed at Institutions that still harbor those sentiments and made her more of a passionate activist who had little patience for the status-quo. This is not the first murder of a rationalist and thinker after the ascension of BJP to the power at the Center. A rationalist professor and thinker M M Kalburgi was murdered in the quaint town of Dharwad. In the neighboring state of Maharashtra, rationalists Govind Pansare and Narendra Dabholkar were also shot, and the one thing that united them all was their strident voices against intolerance and hatred of the right wing ideology. It is no more an exaggeration to say that India is governed under a ‘simulated emergency’ without truly declaring it. Shani Prabhakaran, a television reporter from Kerala, spoke candidly about the treatment of the media by the BJP government at a recent seminar in Chicago sponsored by the India Press Club.
According to her, as soon as she finished a television segment analyzing the last three years of the governance by the Modi regime, a questionnaire from Delhi had arrived with a number of questions asking her to substantiate each criticism! Commenting on the recent raids, NDTV’s Prannoy said the following ‘our fight is not against the CBI, I-T or the ED but against politicians who were using these Institutions and ruining and destroying our country.' The basic responsibility of a journalist is to inform the public free of hype and bias. The fourth estate, as the media is often dubbed, acts as a mirror and a watchdog for the good of the public. However, most of the media in India today are controlled by big corporations whose professional responsibilities of the news outlets they own are intertwined with their business interests. The result is an abject failure in reporting the news with fairness and balance that could prove to be detrimental to a vibrant democratic society.
Never in the history of India, a governing party had made such blatant attempt to eliminate an opposition party (Congress Mukhta Bharat), intimidated and scared Media houses from reporting factual news, invoked colonial-era sedition laws to silence student activists from speaking out or created a hostile environment where these killings go unabated. Through her sacrifice, Gauri Lankesh has woken up our conscience once again. She had recognized the fact that our hard fought freedom and liberty, once again is in danger. In her death, our flailing democracy will be missing one of its strongest defenders. May I salute this brave soul for her true grit and passion for justice! ‘The power to question is the basis of all human progress’ – Indira Gandhi (The writer is a former Chief Technology Officer of the United Nations and Chairman of the Indian National Overseas Congress, USA)