More Activists Like Gauri May Help India Detox Intolerance

In his book Illiberal India: Gauri Lankesh And The Age Of Unreason, senior journalist and analyst Chidanand Rajghatta examines the rights activist’s life against the volatile backdrop of an increasingly fractious and violent India, writes ABDUL WASEY

Mob lynching is a crime no matter what the motive is, the Supreme Court has ruled, adding that it is a law and order issue that is the responsibility of state governments. The recent spike in the incidents of mob violence against individuals and communities highlights the bitter realities of contemporary India.

People across the country now seems to be riven by hate. One of the victims of hate crimes in recent past was journalist and right activist Gauri Lankesh, who was gunned down by assassins in front of her home in Bengaluru on 5 September 2017. The latest book Illiberal India: Gauri Lankesh And The Age Of Unreason by her former husband and friend Chidanand Rajghatta not only profiles her persona but also chronicles her activism for social justice.

Following in the method of previous murders of rationalists M.M. Kalburgi, Govind Pansare and Narendra Dabholkar, Lankesh’s murder chilled the nation, sparking off protests across India. Even as the police unravels the plot behind her murder and connects it to the others, the larger forces that killed these four activists continue to grow.

A fierce critic of the burgeoning Hindutva faction in Karnataka and other parts of India, and a strident supporter of separate-religion status for Lingayats, Lankesh’s activism had made her many foes. Fluent in Kannada and English, she was a particular threat to her ideological enemies — able to reach the influencers through a language of power and a wider audience at the grassroots through her mother tongue

In his book, senior journalist and analyst Rajghatta examines her life against the volatile backdrop of an increasingly fractious and intolerant India. These two elements come together in the murder of Gauri Lankesh who took on the extremist forces and fought for a more equitable society and a better India. After her murder, Lankesh became a symbol of resistance for critics of Hindutva. Her face was placed on posters and memorials and nationwide protests were held in her honour demanding justice.  This memoir by Rajghatta also delves on private and more intimate side of Lankesh. “This ‘legend’ was hardly the Gauri I knew. My memories were personal, of a private person; I had little idea of her public persona,” he writes. He describes Lankesh as a disputatious person yet good-natured, large-hearted and fair-minded. It does seem a little strange, however, to read a description about her that focuses on her “slender but supple physique honed by yoga in her youth and dissipated later.”

But aside from this slightly specific and perhaps a bit sexual description, Rajghatta paints the picture of a fiery woman who spoke her mind about her political beliefs but was also conscious of her own ability to hurt another in her personal life and was careful about avoiding such a situation.

The book highlights how journalists living outside the comfort of Delhi and other metros, while doing their job of exposing the corrupt,  often end up paying with their lives. There is a certain vulnerable air that envelops them as they go about their work in small towns and badlands of the country far removed from the civic order that informs the metros.

The primitive gunning down of Gauri Lankesh in front of her home, in the most metropolitan of all cities — Bengaluru — also brought into limelight the shocking response from ‘illiberal India’ on social media about such killings. In this backdrop, pinning responsibility to act against the mob that take law and order in its hands may go a long way in restoring trust and peace among common people. The misuse of social media, as the book suggests, should also be tamed. And the recent court verdict against mob violence may be the first step towards achieving a bit more tolerant country.