The image of the grieving mother at the funeral haunts me. One of us has been slain because of what she believed in.

Gauri Lankesh murder The left jumped the right jumped and death jumped the highest
Voices Opinion Wednesday, October 04, 2017 - 17:00

The left jumped. We know who killed Gauri Lankesh. Kalburgi angle, rationalist angle, similar gun and modus operandi, fascists, right-wingers have taken over India, press freedom is dead. Murder, gun, press freedom all neatly aligned and maligned.  Police protection was to be granted to people - some intellectuals and prominent people who oppose Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

The right jumped as well. No, no, we know better, we do, yes, yes, we do. Her dislike for Narendra Modi was visceral. Read her writings and see her tweets. She’s been campaigning against him, look at her friends, she was asking for trouble. Pesky journalists are expected to be difficult, but let that pass because there are too many of us who have no principals. Assassination, personal views, press freedom, all neatly aligned. And maligned.

No small irony that many from the left and the right - and often the most strident - live in sound and secure gated communities with bright street lights, security guards who whistle at regular hours as night-watchmen rush to unlock gates as cars drive in. Unlike Lankesh, who lived in a middle class neighbourhood, parked her own car and got out to unlock her own gate only to fall under a rally of bullets, one at point blank range. 

Death jumped the highest, quiet, planned and sure as a shot. And not confused at all, certainly not looking to apportion blame. It spread its blood and gore right across the place where the left and the right pretend to spar fiercely, but generally kiss and make up in time for the next conference. The lady was killed at point blank. There are no angles when life leaves you. Or death claims you.

Home Minister Ramalinga Reddy told journalists the culprits were almost caught but it was important to wait for evidence. What is that supposed to mean? Does the government want to give Gauri’s killers time to run further, or does it want more time to cover up its own inefficiency? He dithered further by saying all angles are open for investigation.

Something is stinking

The image of the grieving mother at the funeral does not leave me. Death won, we lost.

For all practical purposes, the Siddaramaiah government in Karnataka has washed its hands off from murder of a reporter many viewed as a blue blood in our profession, a rarity. Without greed for ordinary trappings, she worked tirelessly for what she believed India deserved. I did not agree with her views, but that’s what makes us a democracy - a noisy and strong democracy. For the pitiful Karnataka government, Gauri’s assassination is a detail in an election year, and thank god for the all-confusing SIT that is supposed to lead the investigation - it is all things to all people therefore nothing to anyone. It can also be called a fig leaf.

The image of the grieving mother at the funeral does not leave me.

Earlier this week, actor Prakash Raj, a friend of the fallen journalist spoke about how he held Narendra Modi and Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh Yogi Adityanath responsible for fanning a climate of hate that led to his friend’s felling. As an actor, he could see theirs were crocodile tears, if tears they were. One could sense the grief in his voice, the sorrow for a friend who had paid with her life for what she believed in. In his genuine outpouring of grief, he said he would like to offer his awards to the two gentlemen who were no more than actors. As I heard his speech, I wondered why he did not mention the local Karnataka government? Apportion blame, yes, please do, by why be selective? We don't know who killed her. Or does actor believe that a few people are so powerful they can turn a country of 1.3 billion into a hate-spewing mob?

The image of the grieving mother at the funeral does not leave me.

Journalists. Us, me, my friends and colleague – our sudden concern for us and our freedom astonishes me. Where were we in 2014 when hundreds of us were thrown out of our jobs without notice because shops were shutting down? Do we as editors really believe that press freedom is a given and that once we have it, it’s forever? Do the top dogs in the profession think we are not followed, pressurised, pushed around, bribed, jailed, beaten and maimed by governments and what we now call out is a new sprout?

The face of the grieving mother at the funeral does not leave me.

The left, the unemployed ones clamouring for a space they once dominated. The right, turning contortionists for a place they covet. The area is the same – small and overcrowded. India, mercifully,  is happening elsewhere. There’s a remarkably unhealthy connection between Delhi and Bangalore that is now being broken by necessity and knowledge. Recognise it or perish. To my friends in both cities I say, you are dancing on pins and it is showing because the space for lies is shrinking in known places and growing elsewhere and they are calling out our lies by asserting their truths. Their voices come from Jabalpur and Coimbatore, Sambalpur, Bhatinda and Itarsi.

The face of a grieving mother at the funeral does not leave me. If the Karnataka government does not tell us who killed Gauri Lankesh – and they claim they know who it is – I will remember their cowardice. One of my colleagues was felled because of what she believed in. Is it too much to expect that her killers be brought to book? One month has passed, time enough for every theory to do the dance of death except beat death itself.

Views expressed are the author's own.

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