Gauri Lankesh: A profile in limitless courage

K Giriprakash Bengaluru | Updated on January 10, 2018 Published on September 06, 2017

Gauri Lankesh (January 29, 1962 to September 5, 2017)

Her slight frame belied a steely determination

The murder of journalist-activist Gauri Lankesh has a frightening similarity to the killing of Malleshappa Madivalappa Kalburgi, the former Vice-Chancellor of Kannada University, who was gunned down at point-blank range by assailants on August 30, 2015 in Dharwad in north Karnataka.

Kalburgi’s killers haven’t been traced yet, though Chief Minister Siddaramaiah has on several occasions promised they will be nabbed soon. In the case of Lankesh’s murder, however, the Chief Minister responded quickly and set up a Special Investigation Team to probe the case.

The similarities don’t end in the manner in which Kalburgi and Lankesh were killed. Both of them fought religious orthodoxy, both were staunchly secular and both of them in their writings espoused the cause of the downtrodden and were critical of the politics of the “Hindutva brigade”.

A state funeral

On Wednesday, Lankesh was accorded a state funeral, a rarity for a journalist. There was an outpouring of emotions from ordinary people who had lined up to see her body kept at Ravindra Kalakshetra, the state-owned centre for performing arts.

Indrajit Lankesh, Gauri’s younger brother and a prominent Kannada film maker, told BusinessLine that he and Gauri had had ideological differences, but nevertheless respected each other. “She never tried to impose her will upon me.”

Indrajit, who recently joined the BJP, said that in spite of threats to her life, Gauri stuck to her principles, which he was proud about.

Krishna Prasad, former editor of Outlook magazine, said Gauri Lankesh had her angularities like everyone else. “Gauri was a small figure in physique. But behind the slight frame was a steely determination that raged against the inequalities, inequities and injustices. This set her up against forces far larger than her.”

Helping Naxals

According to one of Lankesh’s former colleagues, she was arguably one of the few journalists in Karnataka who spoke her mind without mincing words even on as sensitive a topic as Naxalism.

She even befriended Naxals and in some ways was their spokesperson, making sure to present their side of the story so that people and the Goverment could understand what the movement stood for and weigh their version against that of the police.

Lankesh was also responsible for bringing several Naxals back to the mainstream, working along with the government behind the scenes to ensure that not a single one of them was betrayed. It was a huge task, and she never received any recognition for her efforts; if anything, her work was viewed with suspicion by lawmakers.

‘Icon of the oppressed’

Venkatesh Bubberjung, a lawyer who represented Lankesh in several cases, said she was a real braveheart.

“Those who gunned her down have made her more relevant today. She is now an icon of the oppressed,” he said.

He narrated an incident in which BJP leader Uma Bharti was convicted in a case in Hubballi and had 36 non-bailable warrants issued against her, none of which were executed. Lankesh filed a case seeking Bharti’s arrest and, because of that, faced threats from Bharti’s supporters.

“She refused to be cowed down though the prudent thing to do at that time for her was to withdraw the petition,” said Bubberjung, who was once Karnataka’s state public prosecutor.

Krishna Prasad, who knew Gauri Lankesh personally, said that in paying with her life, “Lankesh has alerted us to the gigantic battle that India is up against.”

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Published on September 06, 2017
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