A brutal assault on fourth estate

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“I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I intended to be.”
– Douglas Adams

When Gauri Lankesh, a senior journalist-activist, who had the courage to speak her mind, returned home on Tuesday from work, she was silenced by bullets. The 55-year-old editor and publisher of the Kannada-language Gauri Lankesh Patrike newspaper, was shot dead by unidentified assailants near her home in the southern city of Bengaluru on Tuesday. The daughter of a celebrated poet, Lankesh was a familiar face with her silver short hair and favoured long shirts and jeans for those who used to follow debates on TV channels. She specialized in feminist politics and literature, and lashed out at politicians of all stripes. She was sometimes criticized for showing some sympathy to Maoist rebels who have operated in India for years and destabilized large parts of the centre of the country. A lot of theories are doing the rounds to find the reason behind the murder of this woman journalist, who was hailed by her peers across media houses as a fearless, rational voice – a journalist who was critical of “Hindu extremism and communal polarisation”. One such theory indicates that her death appears to be yet another assassination of an intellectual, who publicly criticized the ruling BJP and the Hindu agenda it has pursued. Indian journalists and rights activists protested on Wednesday against the murder of this bold voice, amid growing concerns about freedom of the press, at a time of rising nationalism and intolerance of dissent. Several journalist groups, including the Editors’ Guild, Press Club of India and Press Association, held protests in cities across India, calling her murder a “brutal assault on the freedom of the press”. The grieving literary community felt the assassination is an attempt to “silence those who believe in democracy and decency”.

Life for female journalists has never been easy in a society which is so hostile to the gender in general. The female journalists seen to be critical of Hindu nationalists have been berated on social media. In last three months, Lankesh to her credit published several stories targeting the BJP-led Union government and its leaders. She has even slammed the demonetisation policy of the Narendra Modi-led BJP government. The death of children at the Baba Raghu Das Medical College and Hospital in Gorakhpur was the subject of her last column. Now, nothing can bring back Lankesh. But one can hope that her story of immense grit against all odds will inspire the new generation journalists.

Soon after murder, Karnataka chief minister Siddaramaiah announced an SIT probe headed by an Inspector General-level officer. Lankesh’s family demanded a CBI probe. The police are hoping that CCTV footage from cameras which Lankesh had put up at her home may lead to some clues about the killers. In Assam too several journalists have fallen prey to the bullets of anti-social elements – Parag Kumar Das, Kamala Saikia, Anil Mazumdar, Kundarmal Agrawala to name a few. Justice alluded them with not a single case of conviction due to ‘lack of evidence’. One hopes that Lankesh’s case does not meet the same fate.

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