Gauri Lankesh, a noted senior journalist was shot dead on Tuesday evening at her Ideal Home Layout residence in Raja Rajeshwari Nagar, Bengaluru. Known for her outspoken views, 55-year-old Gauri was the daughter of writer, translator and journalist P Lankesh. She was a veteran editor of Gauri Lankesh Patrike and columnist in both Kannada and English, and was a vocal critic of the right wing.
Lankesh Patrike, a Kannada language weekly tabloid published from Bengaluru was started by her father P Lankesh in 1980. The weekly is said to have survived solely on subscriptions from its readers for the past 37 years. After her father’s untimely demise in 2000, she started Gauri Lankesh Patrike and continued her father’s legacy and the tabloid has been an anti-establishment publication ever since.
Gauri started her career as a journalist in the early 1980s with Times of India, and later moved on to Sunday Guardian and Eenadu Television in Delhi. She moved back to Bengaluru when her father, Lankesh, died in the year 2000. Gauri, then 38 years old, had been working in the mainstream media for 16 years.
At the time of his death though, Gauri reportedly did not want to continue Lankesh Patrike, because she did not think she or her siblings were the ‘natural’ heirs of the tabloid, writes Chaitanya KM in The Wire. “The siblings went to Mani, publisher of Sanje Vani and Dina Sudar, who was also publishing Lankesh Patrike and told him that they wanted to close their father’s tabloid. Gauri felt that her father did not groom his children to take over the tabloid. She did not think they were its “natural” heirs. To those close to her, she said “We can’t fit into his shoes.” Mani is said to have chided them. He told them that they should give the tabloid a fighting chance,” Chaitanya, a film maker and theatre person, writes.
“Her brother Indrajit decided to continue the newspaper in his father’s name. Gauri started her own tabloid, naming it Gauri Lankesh Patrike,” Chaitanya adds.
“After her father died she took over the paper. That was the first time she was writing in Kannada, until then she had always been writing in English. It was quite impressive of her for to do this. And then she just kept at it year after year. Even today her paper doesn’t take any ads and runs on subscription,” says Sandhya Mendonca, MD and Editor in chief, Raintree Media who has known Gauri since she was 16 years old.
“Before her father’s death, Gauri wasn’t seen as a highly political person,” says filmmaker Prakash Belawadi, who has known Gowri for several decades. “But after Lankesh’s death, she became highly political in her writing. She became harder in her stance, and took on Hindutva and fascist forces. She stood up for the rights of women and for the rights of Dalits,” he says.
MD Riti reminisces about the time Gauri took over the magazine on rediff.com. “The years passed by, and so did Lankesh, and Gauri suddenly took over her father's weekly. This was quite a surprise to many of us, to whom Gauri was the archetypal English language journalist. How would she be able to edit and lead a Kannada magazine week on week, we all wondered. So did Gauri, as Kannada writing was certainly not her forte, as she herself said. But she took on this role with characteristic confidence and courage,” Riti writes.
Gauri was well-known for her strong views against communalism in Karnataka. She had also been vocal about her opposition to BJP’s communal agenda.
Speaking about her tabloid in an interview, Gauri had said, “Those people that we criticise like to dismiss us as a yellow tabloid when we catch them doing wrong things. We have always taken the risk of telling things as they are.”
Last year, she was convicted of criminal defamation in two cases by the Judicial Magistrate First Class (JMFC) Court in Hubballi.
Dharwad BJP MP Prahalad Joshi and BJP leader Umesh Dhushi had filed individual defamation cases against Gauri in objection to a report on BJP leaders she had published in her periodical on January 23, 2008.
Sandhya met Gauri when she was studying in college in Bengaluru. “She used to come to my college to meet her friend that’s how I met her. Even though we went to different colleges we kept in touch. She later joined Sunday Magazine in the late 90s. She was going for a fellowship in France and she helped me get a job in the magazine and we became colleagues. Even after we quit the job we continued to be in touch,” Sandhya said.
“She was a bundle of contradiction—very feisty and at the same time very down to earth. I could easily guilt trip her saying, you didn’t come for my birthday last week, and she would feel terrible. She had a lot of influence but she never misused it even though her newspaper was struggling,” Sandhya said.
“As a child, she was intensely emotional, extremely warm and generous. She was impulsive and short tempered but she was a large hearted individual. She will be missed,” says Prakash Belawadi.
‘Not afraid of death threats’
In an interview in 2000, when asked about the possibility of facing physical threats, Gauri had said, “I am not afraid of physical attacks at all. I used to come home at 3 am alone many nights until a fortnight ago. I only stopped when I saw a man wrapped in a saree lying in the middle of the road on one such occasion. Now I keep my driver with me until I reach home. Apart from that, I have not even got any blank calls. I have received a couple of calls trying to blackmail me about my personal life in taluk level `blackmail' newspapers. Those too stopped when I said, go ahead, write whatever you want about me. I have done nothing wrong to fear exposure.”
A vocal critic of the BJP, Gauri said in an interview to Narada News in December last year, “As a citizen of India, I oppose the BJP’s fascist and communal politics. I oppose its misinterpretation of ‘Hindu Dharma’ ideals. I oppose the caste system of the ‘Hindu Dharma’, which is unfair, unjust and gender-biased. I oppose (LK) Advani’s Ram Mandir Yatra and Narendra Modi’s genocide of 2002.”
“My Constitution teaches me to be a secular citizen, not communal. It is my right to fight against these communal elements. I come from the state of Karnataka, which has produced Basava, who opposed caste inequality and injustices in the society, and am a citizen of India whose Constitution was written by Dr BR Ambedkar. He fought against communalism. I am just taking forth this fight against injustice in my own capacity. I believe in democracy and freedom of expression, and hence, am open to criticism too. People are welcome to call me anti-BJP or anti-Modi, if they want to. They are free to have their own opinion, just as I am free to have my opinion,” she said.