The cold blooded murder of senior journalist and activist, Gauri Lankesh at her residence in Bangalore on September 5 has brought to focus again the discussion on ideological intolerance and a new brand of terrorism. One who observes the religious and political developments in India since 2014 gets the impression that a new brand of terrorism is being propped up to further a particular political ideology. There is no universally accepted definition of terrorism. Each country or group defines terrorism based on its experience and situation. Dictionary.com defines terrorism as “use of violence and threats of violence to intimidate or coerce, especially for political purpose”. Wikipedia gives the following description of terrorism.
· “Terrorism is the use of violence or threat of violence especially against civilians in the pursuit of political aims, religious, or ideological change.
· It reaches more than the immediate target victims and is also directed at targets consisting of a larger spectrum of society.
The new brand of terrorism and the new breed of terrorists target individuals who question blind faith, superstitions, use of religion for political purpose, caste discrimination, enslavement of women, and those who criticize a particular religious and political ideology. The criminals who shot at Gauri Lankesh may belong to the new breed of terrorists.
Gauri Lankesh was the daughter of writer, translator and journalist P Lankesh. She was a veteran editor of Lankesh Patrike and columnist in both Kannada and English, and was a vocal critic of the right wing. The manner in which Gauri was killed was very similar to the way in which rationalist MM Kalburgi was killed two years ago in Bangalore and two other rationalists, Govind Pansare and Narendra Dabolkar in Maharashtra.
Who killed Gauri Lankesh and why are the questions still unanswered. The Karnataka government has constituted an SIT (Special Investigation Team) to probe and nab the culprits. Jumping into conclusions with regard to the brutal killing of the journalist at this stage may be premature. The failure of the Congress government in Karnataka, headed by Siddaramaiah, to nab the killers of Kalburgi even after two years exposes its inefficiency in governance and lack of commitment to protect the lives of free thinkers. The pattern of killing and the flood of hate mails in the social media against Gauri Lankesh indicate the needle of suspicion on the right wing forces. Another speculation is that Maoist group could be behind the murder because of her efforts to dialogue with a group of Maoists and to rehabilitate them. Historian Ramachandra Guha felt that Lankesh's murder was "part of a pattern that links the deaths of Narendra Dabholkar, Kalburgi and Govind Pansare". The link was further confirmed by a senior police official who said the modus operandi in the Lankesh murder seems very close to what had been witnessed earlier.
Ramachandra Guha wrote in his twitter “Gauri Lankesh’s death has been widely mourned by ordinary, decent, Indians. On the other hand, it has been ghoulishly celebrated by Hindutva right-wingers. The senior Cabinet Minister, Nitin Gadkari, has denied that the BJP or its affiliates had anything to do with Gauri Lankesh’s murder. How, so soon after the event, can he be so sure? Even if the BJP or the RSS is not directly involved in this and similar murders, there is little question that the ruling dispensation has enabled a climate of hate and suspicion that makes such targeted killings of writers and scholars possible. It may be freelancers who actually commit these acts; but they are emboldened by politicians, ideologues and television anchors who demonize all critics of the ruling regime as anti-national. The political climate is now more poisonous and rancorous than at any time since the Emergency.”
The hate mail on the social media and the statement of BJP leaders increase the suspicion on the role of the right wing forces in the murder of the journalist. As reported on NDTV News, former minister and BJP MLA Jeevraj made a controversial statement at a function in Chikmagalur on September 8: “If Gauri had not written against RSS she would have been alive today. Gauri is like my sister; but the way she had written against us could not have been accepted.” The MLA was speaking to the BJP workers from different parts of Karnataka who had arrived in Mangalore for a bike rally which the police had stopped.
Gauri Lankesh was a critic of both the Congress and the BJP, as she was a free thinker and rationalist. She was a fierce critic of the Hindutva forces and their activities. She was leading the protests against the murder of MM Kalburgi. Last year she was in the news as she had been convicted of criminal defamation in two cases, involving two BJP leaders from Karnataka, by the Judicial Magistrate First Class Court in Hubballi, but she had got bail from the High Court. In an interview to Narada News in December 2016, she had said, “As a citizen of India, I oppose the BJP’s fascist and communal politics. I oppose its misinterpretation of ‘Hindu Dharma’ ideals. I oppose the caste system of the ‘Hindu Dharma’, which is unfair, unjust and gender-biased. My Constitution teaches me to be a secular citizen, not communal. It is my right to fight against these communal elements.”
Filing defamation cases is a strategy used to silence journalists and writers. It was reported in the media that MM Kalburgi was fighting 20 defamation cases in different courts at the time of his murder. Gauri Lankesh had 15 defamation cases filed against her. But she was using the occasions for attending the court cases to hold press conferences for disseminating her views after attending the cases.
According to the news reports another reason for her murder could be her stand on caste system. She spoke and wrote extensively on the Basavanna tradition of anti-casteism, rationality and secularism.
It is a fact that the space for liberal thinking and writing has been shrinking in India for the last two decades and the speed of shrinking increased ever since BJP came to power at the centre in 2014. As Ramachandra Guha has pointed out in his twitter, “ In the past, independent-minded writers may have had their writings banned or censored, faced court cases, or had their jobs taken away from them. But now, with the rise of political Hindutva, they face the possibility of being physically wiped out. Gauri Lankesh’s murder was not the first such; and it may not be the last.”
The journalists and activists protested against the murder of Gauri Lankesh at different places in India. Unless and until there is a mass movement against the new brand of terrorism there is a possibility of many more journalists and free thinkers being gunned down. A common characteristic of all types of terrorism is hatred and revenge. Any organization or group that motivates people, especially the youth, to hate and take revenge by resorting to violence and murder is a terrorist organization. Similarly anyone who justifies violence and killing for political or religious reasons is a sympathizer or supporter of terrorism.
The religious leaders have a great responsibility to denounce killing on ideological or religious ground. The silence on the part of religious leaders on the face of cold blooded murder of journalists and thinkers can be interpreted either as cowardice or sympathy for the killers. No religion teaches to hate and kill those differ or disagree with ones views or ideology. There is also an urgent need for emphasizing forgiveness and reconciliation as the core of spirituality. Promotion of forgiveness and harmony are the effective means to withstand the onslaught of the new breed of terrorists.
firstname.lastname@example.org(Published on 18th September 2017, Volume XXIX, Issue 38)