A march demanding justice for Gauri Lankesh, the editor of a Kannada weekly who was gunned down a month ago, today turned into a platform for citizens and activists to voice their fears, anguish and the resolve to “unite”. The march from Mandi House to Jantar Mantar was attended by hundreds, from student activists to politicians and trade unionists to general citizens, including a septuagenarian who just underwent a brain surgery to get rid of a malignant tumour, and the daughter of slain writer M M Kalburgi.
The umbrella banner, ‘March for Justice’, had a wide array of political parties under it including the CPI, CPI(M), Aam Aadmi Party, Swaraj India, representatives of which called for larger unity to take on the BJP and the right wing forces, and around 100 activists from the Karnataka-based ‘Janshakti Manch’. The protesters quoted Faiz Ahmad Faiz’s peerless “Bol ke lab azad hai tere bol, ke ab nahi toh kab bolenge? (Speak up for your words are free, if not now then when?)” as they marched down Central Delhi, bringing the afternoon traffic to a standstill.
One of the many posters read: “Gauri disagreed, we all disagree, we will all march, you can’t silence us.” The march ended at Jantar Mantar, where a protest by farmers from Tamil Nadu against distress suicides entered its 81th day today. “We may not know who killed her but we know who all are celebrating her death. With reports of economic slump, the attempts to divert attention from these issues by inciting communal sentiments has only sharpened,” senior Supreme Court lawyer Prashant Bhushan said.
Bhushan’s thoughts were echoed by Sardaram Bhati, a farmer activist from Greater Noida’s Kailashpur village, who underwent a brain surgery in July to remove a malignant tumour, scars of which were visible on his tonsured head. “Fascism is not here yet, but there are chances of it taking over the country. So, till the time I am alive I will keep registering my dissent and protest against these forces,” he said.
Satish Chand Sharma, a retiree who was an active participant of progressive writers’ forums in his youth, said he makes it a point to attend these protests to shatter the silence over the “imposition of choices which has triggered a sense of fear”. “There should not be any fear. What I do, what I eat, what I read, what I sing should be my choice, no one should dictate my choices. I want to be the way I am,” he said, stressing he is not a card-holding member of any political party.
Roopadarshi, the daughter of M M Kalburgi who was shot dead in 2015 in Karnataka’s Dharward, said vigils like this may help create awareness and get justice. “But we (the family) are losing hope,” she said. Others who were present in the march included CPI leader Annie Raja, AAP’s Richa Pandey Mishra, activist Teesta Setalvad, Harsh Mander and veteran journalist Kuldip Nayar.
Malliga of the Karnataka Janhit Manch said Lankesh’s murder was part of a larger pattern of silencing voices of resistance. “From Gandhi to Gauri, we can see a pattern. The State nurtures such elements.” AAP’s Mishra said, “There are a few who are scared of voices of women, students and the youth. We stand together as one. We won’t let them snatch our freedom away.”
Tamil Nadu farmer V Rajendran, who is part of a group of bare-bodied protesters with skulls and bones camping at Jantar Mantar for nearly three months now, said they condemn the killings of journalists as they are the one who take the voices of the oppressed to the masses and the establishment. “We need unification of struggles from across the spectrum,” he said.
Lankesh, who was the editor of ‘Lankesh Patrike’, was shot dead by unidentified men outside her residence in Bengaluru on September 5.