Gauri Lankesh, shot dead in Bengaluru on Tuesday , was known in Karnataka and beyond as a firebrand journalist who never minced words. She was among the most courageous anti-establishment voices in the State, and her uncompromising positions on social and political issues often brought her in direct confrontation with political establishment, individuals and even the judiciary. But she was never one to back out, despite much hate campaign online and off it, often targeting her as a woman. She was one of the few female editors in Kannada press.
A writer, publisher and editor, she took on the mantle of journalism from her father P. Lankesh. While her father founded Lankesh Patrike , known for its fierce anti-establishment stances, Gauri — who started out as an English language journalist in Sunday before taking over after her father’s death in 2000 — took it in another direction under a different masthead, Gauri Lankesh . There were threats, defamation cases and controversies galore, but she fought them with courage. Gauri called herself an “activist-journalist” without hesitation and took up issues that went beyond her calling as a journalist and hard-hitting stories she published.
In recent years, 55-year-old Gauri was among the strongest critics of Hindutva politics in Karnataka and was an active member of organisations such as Komu Sauharda Vedike that fight right-wing groups.
She led the Bababudangiri movement from the front when the Sangh Parivar tried to storm the hill. Gauri was associated with several Dalit and farmers’ groups as well and, with freedom fighter H.S. Doreswamy and others, was part of the group that tried to bring Naxals into the mainstream.
In an interview with an online portal, she once said: “... my criticism of Hindutva politics and the caste system, which is part and parcel of what is considered ‘Hindu dharma’, makes my critics brand me a ‘Hindu hater’. But I consider it my constitutional duty to continue — in my own little way — the struggle of Basavanna and Dr. Ambedkar towards establishing an egalitarian society.”
She often referred to young Dalit rights activists Jignesh Mewani and JNU students’ union activist Kanhaiya Kumar as her adopted sons. Her love and enthusiasm to support young activists got her to organise several fundraising events for them.
The very fact that activists and journalists from virtually every part of the country expressed shock and grief at her death is testimony to the love, admiration and friendship she had earned through her work.
Significantly, Gauri was a vociferous voice when scholar M.M. Kalburgi was killed under similar circumstances near his house in Dharwad. Referring to the murder, she once said that “we are living in such times when Modi Bhakts and the Hindutva brigade welcome the killings and celebrate the deaths (as in the case of U.R. Ananthamurthy) of those who oppose their ideology”. Her death comes soon after the second death anniversary of Kalburgi.