Journalist and activist Gauri Lankesh was shot dead at her doorstep on 5th September 2017 by three assailants. The death of a prolific, outspoken and fearless woman who was extremely open in her criticism and support of sensitive issues became a domino that has started a chain reaction on many trails.
As many passed the blame of her death, the entire country and its media sector emerged in protests. They all saw the death as just another piece in the larger picture – one that shows crushing dissent, intolerance of opposing ideas, and the breakdown of laws and rights.
That Lankesh was a controversial figure is a fact. She fell out with her brother, smoked, and her marriage ended in divorce. But it was her professional life that defined her deviancy. She was an extremely sharp critic of right wing politics and Hindutva, her paper, the Gauri Lankesh Patrike was known to be ‘anti-establishment’, and by far the sorest point was her tireless striving to help the Naxalites enter into the mainstream – something that did not sit well with many, and painted her as definitely anti-national in their eyes.
But one could spend days analysing her thoughts, writings and actions. No doubt, many will, and are currently doing so too. But none of those facts or conclusions, no matter how divergent or controversial, will ever justify her death. To die simply because one exercised their right to speech to say something that is a minority view, or a different view, is a death that stains a democracy, and the Constitution that enshrines its laws and rights. Nobody deserves to die for what they think. No death can be justified by pointing a blood-stained finger at a passage written in the victim’s handwriting.
That Lankesh is not the first, and most likely not the last, is the saddest point of this saga. Already the media faces a tremendous pressure to be popular, to abide by the mainstream opinions, and to offend nobody. When you add to this the shadow of possible death, who will dare speak out? No matter how much you may hate it, or how angry or uncomfortable it may make you, dissent, counter-arguments, and questioning is how the society and media work. Have to work.
And yes, protests are one way to go about it, sure. It is only when the public comes out to show their anger is when the authorities start working on the case, and the assailants and those behind them know that they won’t get away with it so easily. But beyond this, perhaps the issue goes deeper. Perhaps, it is about the way we have created a society where dissent is not tolerated. It is easy to tsk and name names. We often forget that we vote for the government, we are the government. We are the ones who create the atmosphere, be it one that facilitates social progress through dissent and discussion, or be it one that suppresses it.