Illiberal India: Gauri Lankesh and the Age of Unreason review: Dangerous echoes

Lessons from the life and death of Gauri Lankesh

Published - June 23, 2018 07:42 pm IST

There are many ways of expressing love. Illiberal India set in the backdrop of an intolerance that is closely consuming the country, where killing and lynching are the response to dissent, is one way of expressing love for a woman and the ideals she stood for. It is written by Chidanand Rajghatta, the former husband of the slain Gauri Lankesh. They married when they were young, and stayed in touch long after their brief marriage had ended. This book reminds us once again of the dangerous times we live in.

Journalists living outside the comfort of Delhi and other metros, who are doing their job of exposing the corrupt/ intolerant, 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. So, what shocked the conscience of a nation was the primitive gunning down of a frail, feisty woman in front of her home, in the most metropolitan of all cities — Bengaluru — home to the most cosmopolitan people, one assumed. Clearly, Karnataka was already fraying at the edges and had blood on its hands even before Gauri Lankesh was gunned down in the capital. Shocking too was the response from ‘illiberal India’ on social media.

She took the fight to the intolerant, the bigoted and the communal and vented her ire by wielding a powerful pen and expressing her strong beliefs whenever an occasion presented itself. The most interesting parts of the book are also the most dangerous. Gauri Lankesh ended up annoying the powerful Lingayats, the community to which she was born and grew up to be critical of their ways in her adult years.

In one of the most telling lines in the book on the woman who had dared once too often, Rajghatta writes: “When it comes to cowardice, you can’t beat an extremist — of any religion. Lacking reason, logic, words and powers of persuasion, which are the armaments of the intelligentsia, the extremist’s weapon of choice is a sword, trishul... or a gun, whether it is in Khyber, Kashmir or Kanyakumari, or even further afield in Kabul or Kansas.”

I have a small grouse. The writer could have spared us the details about his fitness regimen; written less about himself and focused more on the woman he chose to write about. All of us wanted to read something more about her, given the times we live in. That she lived in and tried to navigate by using the weapon of reason.

Illiberal India: Gauri Lankesh and the Age of Unreason ; Chidanand Rajghatta, Westland Books, ₹499.

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