REMEMBERING GAURI LANKESH

“Even though Gauri does not live, her redoubtable mind will continue to reach out to readers everywhere speaking of freedom, humanity and democracy” – Paul Zacharia in his Foreword

SPEAKING OF FREEDOM, HUMANITY AND DEMOCRACY …Gauri Lankesh, silenced in the prime of her life. Excerpts from `The Way I See It’….

By Kaunain Sheriff M & Abhishek Angad
MOST of us in the media know the history of Karnataka’s Gauri Lankesh who was shot dead outside her home in Bengaluru on September 7, 2017, by gunmen who are still at large and will probably remain so to strike down another victim of democracy.

Victim of democracy? How else may one describe one such as Gauri Lankesh who bravely took on the editorial mantle of her legendary father P Lankesh of Lankesh Patrike fame in Karnataka? The list of democracy’s victims or bravehearts is growing in an India determined to become a Hindu Bharatdesh with vengeance or so to speak…where freedom of expression is rapidly being confused and covered up in sweet pursuit of political power and pelf. Democracy’s truths are always bitter although the truths may be sweet!

Gauri Lankesh was a good journalist and fought just battles in the interest of the larger, common good,  she was determined to show the other side. The other side doesn’t disappear just because the rest of the media does not project it for what it is! At the recent 8th Literature & Arts Festival in Panaji, Chandan Gowda (a close associate of Gauri Lankesh), who had put together and edited the The Way I See It, A Gauri Lankesh Reader (a softcover published by Navayana Publishing, Rs350), was present to introduce the publication. He has obviously taken pains to put together this publication which is an assorted collection of Gauri Lankesh’s reports, columns, editorials, written in English or translated from the original Kannada by various contributors and translators keen on putting on record for a larger audience how bona fide, genuine and courageous Gauri Lankesh was when it came to her calling in journalism.

For anyone seeking insight into what’s happening at micro levels in Bharatdesh reading Gauri Lankesh is well worth it, here’s a selection which offers insight into the murdered journalist’s mind. The Way I See It is a comprehensive collection of Gauri Lankesh’s biases for those who’re exploited and more sinned against by the powers that be in government and society. It’s an intimate portrait of the journalist and the causes which drove her – a forward by Paul Zacharia sums her up in a nutshell and the introduction by Chandan Gowda too is useful, then there are a selection of her early writing in English, an interview with her where she is quoted saying “Being a woman is my security right now,” some of her key reporting and profiles in Kannada, columns, also some heartwarming tributes including one by her mother Indira Lankesh.

From all accounts she was a “wild flower” who grew up as her father’s daughter and after his passing away Gauri Lankesh tried to walk in his footsteps. One may say she lived a life so faithful to her conscience and the cardinal principles of the Fourth Estate, that her killers in their mission to subvert democratic norms didn’t think twice before killing her in cold blood. Killing rationalists, intellectuals, journalists and whoever else who choose to disagree with the politics of the day…beware!

With Gauri Lankesh’s killing it’s as if the message has gone out that if anyone becomes  troublesome they (whoever makes up this Ku Klux Klan-styled gang) will have no scruples removing them from the scene. It’s a chilling thought which many in the media live with today; indeed, a sad day for Indian democracy and the Fourth Estate in India.

It’s with pleasure we reproduce some selected pieces of writing from The Way I See It…in memory of Gauri Lankesh, a beautiful human being and woman, an exemplary journalist, for whom many of us will bleed and weep for and in her memory continue to fight the good fight for the larger and smaller causes of liberty, equality and fraternity across the spectrum of life on earth.

– Tara Narayan

Gauri Lankesh

Amma

My mother, Indira, is seventy-two years old. She has written only one book in her life. That has now won the B. Saroja Devi Prize for Literature. Since this book, Hulimaavu mattu Naanu (a sour mango and I), which is about the forty years of her married life with my father, was serialized in these pages, I don’t need to introduce it to my readers.

But I will share a few words about the background to his book. G.P. Basavaraju of Mayura (a monthly) was the reason it happened. He had planned o bring out a special issue on Appa. He asked Amma and me to write for it. Amma hesitated at first, “No, I cannot write.” Letters to her relatives and keeping the accounts of her successful sari shop were the only writing she had done until then.

Since I persuaded her too, she wrote a piece called “Scooter Days”, I had edited it lightly before sending it to Mayura. The essay was about the efforts Appa and Amma had made to buy a scooter, the time they had spent traveling on it, and so on. It was liked by many readers. That was when the Lankesh team felt that a book on my father by a person who handled with him for forty years would bring out the other dimensions of his character.

None of us could guess there was a writer in her. Initially, we suggested that she narrate her story and someone write it down. Who would do that though?

I was too busy to offer to do it myself. K. Akshatham who had done a fine job on the just published autobiography of the farmers’ leader Kadidal Shamann, Kaadu Toreya Jaadu (The trail of the forest streams), lived far from Bangalore. The others whose names occurred to us were either busy or lived in far off places and so work on the book go pushed back by a few years.

In the end, I told Amma, “Start noting down your memories whenever you find the time. Let’s think about the book later.” Amma started writing. A few days later, she gave me a few sheets of her notes and said, “Can you see how they read?”

They read very well.

When Amma can write this well, I regret having spent so much time looking for a scribe. We decided to publish her account in the weekly from the very next week. But what about the title? Since Rajeshwari had already published My Tejasvi, we felt a different kind of title was necessary. Lankesh and I seemed bland. I thought for a while. Since Appa’s autobiography as titled Hulimaavina Mara (A Sour Mango Tree), I felt Hulimaavu Mattu Naanu (A Sour Mango and I) would be a good title for the column. Amma liked it too.

Indira was he most disciplined columnist I have seen in my career as an editor; She sent in her column while the deadline was still a few days away. If she needed to travel, she would write her piece before leaving town.

Amma’s writings became popular very soon. Many readers would go to her column before anything else in the weekly. After she ended her column, I felt that the book should be released in Shimoga, where my parents were from. Amma is such a shy character, she asked, “Will I need to come for the book release?” “Just come,” I said. She did, along with Esha.   

It is necessary to describe how my mother raised us. When we were small, there was no limit to the love or the beatings she showered on us. The tiniest of our problems made her anxious. But, if the school report card showed low scores, she would rain blows on us. (Appa never hit us.) Games, storybooks and such came only after the homework was done. She too would not sit down to read till after finishing all the house work. To this day, in our home, most of us can be found with a book in hand around lunch time. Highly disciplined even now, she tried to get us to cultivate it too. (Only my sister picked it up but discipline and I are far removed from each other.) Amma forced us to finish our food without leaving a single morsel uneaten. (My brother never picked up this habit.)

More than anything else, Amma taught our first lessons in feminism to my sister and me. She doesn’t know the history of the women’s movement, its philosophy or its leaders. She had learnt from her own experience. That the lack of education and financial independence makes women lean on men, suffer insults, was one of the lessons she learnt. This is why she often advised us affectionately “You must study hard and stand on your own feet.” Sometimes, she issued strict orders.

On one occasion when she caught me with my boyfriend, she had slapped me and put me under house arrest for two days. I is common for families to start searching for eligible boys when girls reach the end of their teens. But in our case, my mother raised the issue marriage only after we had finished our studies and started earning some income from a job.

Amma’s struggles and victories in life were all thrilling. On the one hand, she hadn’t studied beyond PUC (pre-university course, twelfth grade). On the other, she had no skill or training that would get her a job. She bore the responsibility of raising three children. When her husband went after another woman, she had thrown away her mangalsutra. “What must I do to lead a self-reliant and contented life? Where must I go?” She was thirty-three years old when such questions confronted her.

That was when she started selling saris from home, and saw the enterprise grow into a big shop…My mother who continues to live a life of independence and with self-respect has, in her seventy-second year, won a prize for literature. This Indira is not an ordinary woman.

Hearty congratulations to Kusakooru Somasundar Indira Lankesh! I am grateful to you and Appa for raising us. Love you very much.

(22 April 2015, Gauri Lankesh Patrike

Translated by Chandan Gowda )

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Gauri Lankesh

`We are the progeny of Ekalavya’

A dalit poet critical of Hinduism is attacked by Hindutva goons

HUCHCHANI Prasad is a rebel with a socio-political cause. In his short life of twenty-three years, this young man has lived through pain, oppression, poverty, deprivation and slavery. What he has had to endure has naturally made him a very angry young man. Like most young poets of his age. Prasad vents his rage through his works. But his anger is accompanied by concern.

As noted poet Du. Sarswathi says: “Prasad’s poems a filled with fiery flames of pain, resentment and fury. But  the fiery words also contain kindness and empathy.” Even a cursory reading o some of Prasad’s poems – which were published under the title Odale kichchu (The Blaze Within) and which won an award from the Karnataka Book Authority – will reveal that he opposes the caste system, Hindutva and blind faith. A follower of B. R. Ambedkar’s teachings, Prasad yearns for the return of someone like Ambedkar or Basavanna who will unshackle those who have been trapped in the pit of ignorance.

Born to a devadasi mother and a dalit father, Prasad was forced to spend his childhood as a bonded laborer. What saved him from a life of misery was a government scheme called `Chinnaraloka’, which helps rehabilitate and educate child laborers. Education rid his life of the darkness that enveloped it, and brought in awareness. As Prasad says: “I have written about what I have lived, experienced and seen. What’s wrong with that?”

Well, according to some, he did a whole lot of wrong things. In March last year, Prasad not only published a collection of his poetry, he had the nerve to invite Prof K.S. Bhagwan to release the book. The combination of `stalwart’ Bhagwan – who has for long been an annoyance to fundamentalist Hindus and currently aces death threats – and the `upstart’ Prasad proved too much for the Hindu Jagaran Vedike and Sri Ram Sena, who not only made anonymous threatening calls to Prasad, but even filed complaints with the police. No one knows what subsequently happened to the police complains but what is known is that gradually the threat calls to Prasad stopped.

That was many moons ago. A lot of blood has been shed since, communal hatred has been spread and right wing goons have gained enough confidence to attack whoever they think is opposed to their agenda. Last week, some of them lured Prasad to a desolate place in Davanagere and physically attacked him. Not only did the attackers smear kumkum on Prasad’s face, they threatened him saying, “You son of a bitch, how dare you criticize Hindu dharma” You have been born a madiga (a dalit caste) because of the sins you committed in your past life. Scoundrels like you should be killed. We will chop off your fingers, you bastard, for writing against Hindu dharma.” One of the attackers even pulled out a blade to cut Prasad’s hand. The fear of losing his hand emboldened Prasad to put up a stiff resistance and he escaped from his assailants with a minor injury to his palm.

“What is wrong with my criticizing Hindu religion? Even Ambedkar criticized Hindu religion. He said, `Hindustan is a land of inequalities.’ According to me, there is no religion in the world which is as ghastly as Hinduism.” Says Prasad in defense of his point of view. He adds, ”What is this Rama Rajya that they want to  establish? Have they even pondered about what happened to shudras like Shambuka under Rama Rajya? Have they ever thought of the status accorded to women under Rama’s rule? What happened in the case of Sita? We don’t want their Rama Rajya. We want Praja Rajya as envisioned in our Constitution.”

Pointing out that since his right palm has been injured he might not be able to write for a while, Prasad said, with righteous anger: “They might be the progeny of Dronacharya. We are the progeny of Ekalavya.” Which reminded me of Kuvempu’s play Beralge Koral. As everyone knows, Drona made Ekalavya cut off his right thumb as guru dakshina in order to protect his favorite  pupil Arjuna’s image as the best archer. But for Ekalavya, a tribal living in the forest, hunting is essential for survival. Kuvempu’s version ends with Ekalavya learning to use his left hand to shoot the arrow. What I mention this to Prasad, he said, “Is that so? I didn’t know that. What I do know for sure is that they can never curb me or my spirit. Ambedkar has taught us the value of self-respect, self-awareness and standing up for ourselves. I shall forever follow in his path.”

Well, sticks and stones may break their bones, but the ideas Ambedkar has instilled in the minds of people like Prasad can never be shattered by right-wing goons.

(26 October 2015, Bangalore Mirror)

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Indira Lankesh

ONE day, Gauri had eaten pani puri near South End Circle on her way home. That night she had a very high fever. Her body burnt like embers. She began to talk gibberish and we could not understand anything of what she was saying. We realized it was no ordinary fever and took her to one Pandu Nursing Home around 11 at night.

Gauri was unconscious by then. She would wake up every now and then and talk gibberish. “You have not raised your daughter the right way. I will check her later,” said the doctor and left. He didn’t come back even as it neared midnight. When we asked the nurses, they said the doctor would be back only the next morning.

Lankesh was furious. He picked up Gauri and got ready to leave. “You cannot take the patient without the doctor’s  permission,” said the nurse, trying to stop him. “I will break every glass in your hospital. Here is our child suffering with high fever and your doctor says we have not raised our daughter right. I will deal with you later,” he said.

We took Gauri in an auto to Martha’s Hospital. It was raining heavily. By then Lankesh had called Marulasiddappa and he too arrived. Gauging her condition, the doctors there immediately admitted her.  

Gauri was diagnosed with brain fever and they started her treatment. The doctors said they would need to take a sample of her spinal fluid. Gauri had no consciousness of where she was or what was happening to her, but she kept screaming, kept trying to escape from whoever tried to hold her. It was only after four people held her tight that they could extract the spinal fluid with a syringe.

After a thorough examination the doctors said, “Your daughter needs to gain consciousness within forty-two hours. If not we cannot guarantee her survival. Even if she does survive, she might be blind for life.” We were both shell-shocked. My daugher’s eyes are as beautiful as her father’s. I used to boast that Hema Malini’s eyes were no match for my daughter’s.

The difficult days had begun. My mind had gone blank. I sat there staring at her. I would look at the watch every five minutes and hope she regained consciousness soon.  Gauri lay there unconscious, without any sign of movement. About thirty-six hours later there was some movement in her limbs but her eyes remained shut. It was thirty-eight hours after she lost consciousness that she finally opened her eyes.

The life that seemed to have left my body returned. She could see. Bu she was extremely weak in her limbs and could not even stand. She fell down every time we tried to prop her up. She was kept in the ICU for a few days.

Those days Lankesh’s student Hariharapriya used to drop by to our house regularly. We took turns to sit with Gauri at the hospital. They shifted Gauri to the ward after a few days, but it took a long time for her to recover. She would certainly not have survived if we had not taken her to Martha’s that day.

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  1. Phanriraj

I WAS always jealous of Gauri’s single life. My familial obligations didn’t let me venture into the things she did. Bu she was also overburdened with her commitments to social movements and by the innumerable court cases filed against her as an editor. She used to rue not having time for family or in pursue her favorite passions. Looking at my frequent travel over weekends for activism, she once asked me, “Don’ your wife and daughter object to your absence?” I said, “Yes, divided between a middle class family and activism, like Faiz Ahmed Faiz said, everything gets done by halves.” She laughed and said, “But you are lying! Your wife and daughter are the ones who are deprived.” Yes, social movements give one an extended family, and being single she enjoyed the love she got from them. A person who never even answered urgent calls while watching her favorite tv serials was now taking calls from all her adoptive sisters, brothers, daughters and sons. The number of boys and girls she used to affectionately befriend as “mari” ( gender neutral term in Kannada for “the little one”) was astonishing by the end. Since 2015, at every other meeting I used see her surrounded by young ones calling her “Amma.” She had a loving chemistry with them. Many of them were not regular activists. For many middle aged activists, she used to be “Gauri Madam.”

On 6 September, 2017, a day after Gaur was assassinated in Bangalore, in a village named Taleguppa, 600 km away from the capital, Poornima, a single woman in her late thirties, made a placard of protest and stood in the village market place for an hour, then marched alone for 21 km in the nearby taluk town of Sagara, and held a protest demonstration alone.  She had learnt painting and made a living with a small farm of her own. She had never met Gauri. The stubbornness of her act stunned me. I knew Gauri, but Poornima knew her much better.

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