Death of an activist: on Gauri Lankesh

Gauri Lankesh’s killers must be found; or it’ll embolden those who stifle dissent

Updated - December 04, 2021 11:57 pm IST

Published - September 07, 2017 12:02 am IST

The murder of journalist-activist Gauri Lankesh in Bengaluru has set off a wave of protests across the country ; the chill that has set in is difficult to miss. It is a fool’s game right now to hazard guesses about the identity of the killers, but the manner in which she was brutally murdered raises extremely worrying questions. Her killers caught her outside her home, alone and with her guard down as she got out of her car — they fired at point-blank range, hitting her on the chest and the temple. They appear to have fled without even once getting off their motorbike, leaving no finger or shoe prints, as ‘clean’ a murder as can be. This has the hallmark of a professional hit-job, a pre-meditated assassination. It is the police’s remit to identify and nab the killers, but Lankesh’s killing cannot but draw attention to the various constituencies that she kept on notice. Lankesh, the publisher and editor of the Kannada weekly Gauri Lankesh Patrike , wore her activism on her sleeve. She came up against the establishment in multiple ways, as she sought to bring naxalites to the mainstream, take up the cause of Dalits and farmers, raise consciousness on the creeping influence of Hindutva groups, give moral support to progressive campaigns, and basically bear scrutiny on those in power.


Journalism, especially that of Kannada’s uniquely tabloid-driven activism, has suffered a loss, and her death must be intensely mourned. But as in the cases of Safdar Hashmi decades ago and rationalists M.M. Kalburgi , Govind Pansare and Narendra Dabholkar in recent years, the high-profile death of an activist is a notice to society in ways that transcend the individual’s specific life story. It is a confirmation of how formidable are the forces, howsoever invisible they may be to the arm of the law, that individual activism is up against. These brutal attacks have the power to potentially scare off others — activists, journalists, complainants — from sniffing around too much. Just last month, the eventual conviction of Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh on the charge of rape was a reminder of the high cost that defenceless individuals pay to bring the powerful to book — in this case, the murder of Sirsa-based journalist Ram Chandra Chhatrapati , in 2002 for first publishing news of the crime. This is why Lankesh’s murderers must be expeditiously traced and punished — another unsolved crime will only embolden those who believe that dissent and opposition must be met with violence. Her murder has taken place in a year that India dropped three places in the World Press Freedom Index compiled by Reporters Without Borders, from an already bleak 133 to 136. It demands words and also acts of reassurance from the Karnataka and Central governments.

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