The deadline is nigh. The editorial is yet to be written. But the newsroom breaks for lunch. Left orphaned a year ago by their editor’s assassination, the former staff and writers of Gauri Lankesh Patrike have held on to some rituals. “It was a custom Gauri Lankesh had started. That on production day, we all eat together,” says Dr Vasu, a member of the editorial team.
It’s a production day with a difference. It marks this battered newsroom’s return to business – with a new name and masthead and office. The tabloid is now called Nyaya Patha and it hits the stands tomorrow on Lankesh’s first death anniversary — with a special issue.
Lankesh stares back at the reader from the cover page, which bears the title, Abhivyakti Maruhattu (The rebirth of freedom of expression). While several writers have contributed articles, it also reproduces Lankesh’s speech at a literary meet in Shimoga in 2006. “The RSS had opposed her participation at that meet. They had denounced her as a Naxal. But the writers stood by her. If you read that speech today, you will think that she is speaking to us, right now,” says Vasu. The piece, where Gauri argues that Dalits and Adivasi protestors have often been dubbed Naxals, is titled, “If you call me a Naxal when I am asking for peace, then I don’t care’. “It is not just about Gauri alone. She has become a symbol for the attacks on intellectuals, for the larger loss of freedom of several communities and the takeover of institutions by the right wing,” says Vasu.
After Gauri’s death, differences within the Lankesh family about reviving the newspaper and a lack of direction meant that there was no edition for seven months or so. “At first, we thought we would call the tabloid Naanu Gauri (I am Gauri) But repeated applications to the Registrar of Newspapers for India for an RNI number was rejected,” says Vasu. “There was absolutely no reason to do so. It was a completely unjust decision. Finally, a friend of ours, Ashok Murthy, who ran the Nyaya Patha decided to let us use the name,” says Vasu.
In the interim, from April to August, the team produced 21 issues of Naanu Gauri, but only for private circulation. According to Narasimha Murthy, who is a member of the Gauri Media Trust, Gauri Lankesh Patrike had around 10,000 readers in September last year. “Naanu Gaaru was for subscribers only, around 2000 of them,” says Murthy. Its last cover story was on the arrests and raids of the five human rights activists by the Pune Police. The salaries of the 10-odd staff members were paid by the trust.
The last year has also seen significant progress in the investigation into Gauri’s killings, with the probe suggesting that far-right groups across three states conspired to kill the journalist. “You were here a year ago with us. We had no hope left. We did not think her killers would ever be caught. But the police has worked very hard to crack it,” says B Chandre Gowda, a veteran satirical columnist who joined the paper when it was edited by P Lankesh, Gauri’s firebrand father and legendary Kannada writer.
“I don’t think the arrests show the existence of Hindu terror. No religion preaches this kind of violence or hate. This is RSS terror. The RSS may now disown the Sanatan Sanstha but these organisations speak the same language,” said Vasu.
Despite the struggle, the team has found great support from a wider pool of writers and activists, say the journalists. “But what I miss is Gauri’s dhwani, her voice. Now, when we hear a former central minister and BJP MLA, Basangouda Patil Yatnal, say that all intellectuals should be shot dead, when another says they are here to change the Constitution, where are the newspapers to counter them? Gauri would have answered, no doubt,” said Gowda.
But, as the tabloid takes on a new life, Vasu would rather look at the future. “She was so articulate and fearless. They thought that by killing her, they would scare everyone. But look at what has happened: so many others have spoken up for her,” he said, as he clicks open his laptop to check the editorial—one last time.