To hear the news of Gauri Lankesh’s death was like watching the replay of a movie I had seen before. Men came on a motorbike, shot her and then vanished. No one saw them. M.M. Kalburgi’s murder was eerily similar. There, too, the men came on a motorbike and, their job done, vanished. Nobody saw them. Kalburgi was a teacher and scholar, Gauri a journalist and activist, but they had this in common: They believed in speaking what they considered was the truth. It is now two years since Kalburgi’s death, but the men remain untraced. Now, once again there is a killing, once again the protests, the candle-lit vigils, the banners, the placards. Once again, the government promises an investigation, a search for the killers, but can we believe them? Is Gauri’s murder also going to remain an unsolved case?
When a murder takes place, the priority is obviously finding the killer. But perhaps in Gauri’s case, as in Kalburgi’s, even if the killers are found, it may provide only a partial answer to the question who. The killers in these cases, and in the earlier two cases of Narendra Dabholkar and Govind Pansare, were obviously professional assassins. Mercenaries, experienced in killing. Gauri’s killers came in the dark and vanished like ghosts. Why was Gauri killed is the next question.
All political parties have condemned the murder, all of them have expressed their shock. The Congress government even gave her a state funeral! There are conflicting theories doing the rounds, red herrings are dragged in. Kalburgi’s death was called the result of a property dispute by the investigating police and some politicians, the Naxalites hinted at in
Gauri’s death. Protesting on Gauri’s behalf seems like shadow boxing. Whom are we fighting? The murder seems to be surrounded by a dark fog of confusion. Is there a power behind the curtain operating the strings, making the moves? Or is that, too, a chimera? The one question that urgently demands an answer is: Are we now living in a country where people are killed because of their ideology, their beliefs? Are we living in a country where dissent is silenced by a bullet? Two years ago, there was a protest in India which began with writers and went on to embrace scientists, film-makers, social scientists, teachers and many others. This protest erupted after the killing of a man on the suspicion that he had eaten beef and because of the deaths of Dabholkar, Pansare and Kalburgi. In spite of the attempts of the government and its followers to trivialise and sully the issue, it was one of the most heartening movements of recent times, because the protestors had no political leanings and no agenda of their own — except to reassert the idea of India as a country of multiplicities, a country where each citizen has the right to live life the way she/he wants. Instead, we now have an idea of a country where one religion, one way of living, one culture, is the privileged one.
Gauri was a vehement anti-Hindutva person. She was hated for her views, she was called a Naxal sympathiser, a Hindu hater. But however strong her views, she posed no threat to those she opposed. Nor were the three men killed earlier any threat. And yet all of them were chosen targets, their murders well-planned. There is only one explanation for this; Gauri and the others were killed to send a message to all those who oppose this idea of India. The message is: If you dissent, we are waiting for you. To kill some and instil fears in many is a way of silencing people.
If you are not with us you are against us, President George W. Bush told the world after 9/11. This is exactly the way it is in India today. If you don’t agree with us, you are the enemy. There are footsoldiers who help by spewing venom on the social networking sites. Gauri, too, was attacked in the vilest terms. The abuses, the kind of things being said about her as a woman, the threats of gang rape, the rejoicing over her death — all these come out of sick minds.
Today, we are being told what being a patriot or a nationalist means. Those of us who have lived in this country all our lives and are tied to it by an umbilical cord are bewildered and angry. Do we need anyone to tell us how to love our country? Perhaps one of the things these deaths have told us is that one of the best ways of loving our country is refusing to be afraid, refusing to be silenced.
“The only way to keep ourselves free is to speak, not to let ourselves be silenced either by pernicious laws or by mob screaming” — the words of an American crime writer, Sara Paretsky, in an essay written after 9/11. She speaks of “every writer’s difficult journey” as a “movement from silence to speech”. Those who want to silence dissent are trying to force people into making the reverse journey — from speech to silence. But for a writer, for a journalist, silence is also death. Perumal Murugan knew it, which is why he announced the death of Perumal Murugan the writer when he decided to stop writing. Whoever they are, those who are trying to silence voices forget one thing: Silence one voice and a hundred, a thousand voices will take its place.
Gauri Lankesh is dead. She was a brave woman who tried to live a life according to her beliefs and convictions. Perhaps the protest meetings, the candle-lit vigils, the banners, the placards may be useful in making people aware of the person who died, of why the person died. And of how important it is to speak, to refuse to be afraid.