The brutal murder of a firebrand journalist

Silencing reason

Journalist and activist Gauri Lankesh, who was shot dead at point-blank range, was a critic of the establishment. While there is no proof of who actually killed her, we know the people who were most disturbed by her work, just as we know who gained most from the murders of rationalists Narendra Dabholkar, Govind Pansare, and M.M. Kalburgi. The rationalist, Narendra Nayak, rightly pointed out that “the elimination of voices of reason by silencing them through murder was the hallmark of those cowardly dunces who have no arguments to counter those put forward by us.”

Those “cowardly dunces” are none other than the real-life versions of the vicious trolls and “orcs” who populate the Internet, subsumed by the ideology of majoritarian exclusivism, religious conservatism, and patriarchy. These are not fringe elements but vital foot soldiers in a cultural project that seeks to destroy its veritable threats of rationalism and progressivism.


Lankesh’s Weltanschauung, a left-liberal world view, questioned the orthodoxy of caste hierarchy and strove to expose the unholy nexus of religious conservatism, political Hindutva, and crony capitalism that has featured starkly in Karnataka in recent years. Her work in Gauri Lankesh Patrike took those forces representing this nexus head-on. This is why many suspect that she paid a price. That said, as some have rightly argued, Lankesh may have lost her life for expressing her world view in Kannada, for being able to reach out and shape the opinions of many more readers. Her death is a reminder of the scores of journalists and stringers — in the regional press — who have lost their lives over the years.

Fearing rationalists

Rationalists, unlike liberals and other modernists, go a step further in exposing the roots of conservatism and fundamentalism — they take on uncomfortable issues that bother not just collective subjects in a political project (such as voters) but individuals in “deep society”. Their work is the forerunner of social change rather than just political or economic change; it is an outcome that threatens the forces of conservatism the most. While liberals argue for modern values and abstract freedoms, their work does not touch “deep society” the way the work by rationalists does. Rationalists question core beliefs and take on sacred cows; they strike right at the edifice of legitimacy accorded to the status quoists and religious conservatives. This is exactly why they are seen as the greater and most immediate enemy by the enemies of ‘progress’, and so the attacks on Kalburgi, Dabholkar, Pansare, and Lankesh.

Historian Romila Thapar recently pointed out that today’s diminished pool of public intellectuals continues a tradition of unorthodoxy and critical dissent championed by the adherents of the Lokayata philosophy and Buddhists in ancient India. They are the heirs of the philosophers who questioned the Church in Europe; they are like Emile Zola and the band of “intellectuals” who secured justice for an innocent victim in the “Dreyfus affair.”

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Printable version | Apr 30, 2021 9:48:50 PM |

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