Refusing to die

Print edition : September 29, 2017

A protest in New Delhi. Photo: SAJJAD HUSSAIN/AFP

Gauri Lankesh’s views will not die because they are intrinsic to freedom and humaneness. And her killers are confused because they do not know how they can kill any better.

They killed her. And then they killed her again. And yet again. And yet, she does not die.

If you were one of them, you would actually consider her lucky the first time round. Because, of the four bullets fired from that countrymade pistol, from that close range, only three found their mark. If you were one of them and you had had your way, the fourth too should have. Now it is almost as if one bullet did not do its job. It is as if one bullet spared her by not ripping into her flesh and bones like the rest. So as you go about killing her again, you need to be unsparing, in the filth you throw at her, in the calumny you unleash on her, in the spleen you vent on her.

If you were one of them, her refusal to die in spite of this multiple killing would leave you in a fit of jealousy and rage. You would start seeing red and call her a Commie, that ultimate cuss word in your vocabulary for those you viscerally hate because they are intellectually way above and beyond your grasp. When it looks like that intended slight only enhances her reputation, you would turn apoplectic and lapse into incoherent obscenities against her. You would blindly hit out at anyone and everyone who so much as cast a sympathetic, kindly glance at where she stood, and what she stood for, before she was felled. You would berate the media for making her the subject of conversation and concern for even these few days. You would pettily grudge her the state honours with which she was laid to rest. You would vengefully crow about how she had it coming and how she deserved every bit of it. You would drop dark hints about more helmeted riders on motorcycles armed with countrymade pistols being out there on the streets to deal with others who, like her, foolishly took their freedom of speech seriously.

They ask, Why all this fuss

If you were one of them, you would not understand why there should be all this fuss about a woman who ran an independent niche newspaper without accepting any advertisements or corporate sponsorships, relying only on a dedicated subscriber base. You would be very worried, and therefore very indignant, about her scrutiny and exposure of corrupt legislators working hand in glove with corrupt businesses. You would be scornful of her passionate engagement with the cause of Dalits and the marginalised. You would be at a loss to understand why rationalists and atheists, including the likes of Dabholkar, Pansare and Kalburgi before her, should not be eliminated as a matter of course because they threaten your blind-belief comfort zone, upset your assiduously cultivated religious mumbo-jumbo ecosystem, with logic and science.

If you were one of them, you would be impatiently furious that there were still those who believed that the religious minorities had the same rights, as citizens, as the majority because you thought you had already disposed of that canard by naming and shaming it as pseudo-secularism. You would be particularly aghast that a woman, of all the genders, was putting up the kind of resistance she was against your Manuvadi political legacy. You would be reaffirmed in your conviction that she had to go and feel self-congratulatory that you did away with her.

If you were one of them, you would not feel unduly insulted when you were called a fascist because that is your preferred or practised brand of politics, perhaps even your aspirational badge of honour. You might, in fact, be amused by those going blue in the face calling you that hoping to din some sense into you. You would not, by the same token, be unduly perturbed that you are held responsible for, or even culpable of, the mob murder of an elderly Akhlaq, or a young Junaid, or any number of those equally innocent men whom you chose to mistake, in your coloured view of a certain hue, of endangering the life of a cow. Because your finest protective sensibilities lunge to the fore when “bovinity” (a term that encapsulates what is at once divine and bovine) is threatened and you would not hesitate to pre-emptively kill, particularly those you consider of a lower religious persuasion or a lowly caste, to save that four-legged, and maybe that many times born, noble creature. You would, though, be quick to pretend to take offence whenever you are accused of killing Gandhi because he is too deeply entrenched in the psyche of the people and you need to make-believe that you too espouse his heritage and humane values. You would, at the same time and on the sly, try to resurrect his killer, Godse, as a cult figure.

If you were one of them, you would not like to be reminded that you would not come out from under your cots where you were hiding when the rest of the country was courageously engaged in the independence struggle, or that you wrote craven letters of apology to the British colonial power; or that you later rode pillion on the JP movement to claim martyrdom during the Emergency imposed by Indira Gandhi; and that you now need to desperately rewrite history so that all this ignominy can be whitewashed and retold so as to give you some retrospective validity.

If, on the other hand, you were not one of them, but one like her, who lived your life in the conviction that you could, in this day and age, take for granted the freedoms endowed by your democracy to write, speak up for, and act on behalf of the vulnerable, the oppressed and the marginalised and against ideologies that you opposed, that spewed hate and violence, you would, with her killing, be shaken out of that belief. If, like her, you thought your Constitution guaranteed you your fundamental rights, including that to freedom of speech and expression under Article 19(1)(a), and particularly the very basic and existential right to life and personal liberty under Article 21, you now know better. There are no guarantees really. They are not, for you, worth the paper they are written on when the motorcyclist with the gun comes knocking at your door, again and again.

If you were one like her...

If you were one like her, a journalist by calling, a foot soldier of the fourth estate, of the fourth pillar of democracy, who strove to speak truth to power, to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable, you would begin to wonder why you alone were expected to do your job exposed and defenceless out there, your life repeatedly targeted, while the executants of the other three pillars—the executive, the judiciary and the legislature—had the full force of the police and the SPG and the commandos behind them and in front of them and to their left and to their right as they went about their work and their lives. You would begin to ask yourself why, every time there is a “VVIP movement”, almost the entire police force in the area lines the streets on both sides for hours on end, leaving the streets and gullies where the ordinary citizens live at the mercy of robbers, rapists and gun-wielding motorcyclists.

But that is the point. They, and not just the killers or the ones who put them up to the killings but the entire complicit Establishment, do not want you to be like her. They do not want you to question or challenge or expose or have an alternative view or vision. They want you to say and write what they want to hear and read. They want you to live your lives quietly, unquestioningly, even if miserably. They will show you your place and you will stay there. If you seek to step out of it, you are stepping out of line. For them, your rights and privileges flow not from the Constitution, not from the universal declaration of human rights, but from your religion, your caste and the electoral standing of your vote bank. If you are of a minority community or religion, behave like one, with expectations inferior to the majority, or else…. That is what they want.

But that is what she would not accept, for herself or for others. That is what she defied. They thought they could kill her for her views, and the views would die with her. But she does not die because hundreds and thousands rally around in solidarity to proclaim “I am Gauri”. Her views, what she stood for, do not die, because they are intrinsic to freedom and humaneness which ultimately and ever triumph. Gauri Lankesh was killed but refused to die. And the killers are confused. Because they do not know how they can kill any better than they have done.

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