Arundhati Roy and Teesta Setelvad participate in an event to commemorate the slain journalist Gauri Lankesh

Published : January 28, 2021 19:50 IST

Gauri Lankesh, a file photo. Photo: Santosh Sagar

At an event organised to commemorate the memory of the slain journalist Gauri Lankesh on the eve of her 59th birthday, Booker prize-winning author Arundhati Roy remembered her as someone who “expanded us”. “We were so lucky to have someone like her,” Roy said in a conversation with Teesta Setalvad, founder secretary of the Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP). Gauri Lankesh, a well-known critic of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), was shot dead outside her home in Bengaluru on September 5, 2017.

A book of poems written by Kavitha Lankesh, sister of Gauri Lankesh, titled Akka: Poems for Gauri and published by the CJP, was relaunched at the online event by Arundhati Roy in the presence of Kavitha Lankesh and Teesta Setalvad. As part of a freewheeling conversation with the backdrop of Gauri Lankesh’s world that Teesta Setalvad described “traversed the road between journalism and activism”, Roy eloquently ruminated on several troubling contemporary issues that India is facing.

The conjunction of “economic fundamentalism” and “Hindu fundamentalism” was critiqued by Roy as she sought to conceptually analyse the issues that India currently faces. “In the 1980s, two locks were opened. One was the lock of a masjid and the other was the lock of the bazaar that has led to the growth of economic fundamentalism and Hindu fundamentalism,” she said. This has led to “power getting increasingly concentrated in a few hands”, she added, while referencing Oxfam’s latest report that called attention to how wealth was increasingly getting concentrated in the hands of fewer people in India.

Roy also commented on the “similar patterns” that were used to delegitimise the protests against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) and the three agricultural laws. “The pattern is so familiar: In the case of the anti-CAA protests there were calls for violence that led to a pogrom [in Delhi] and we saw the same thing in the violence on Republic Day where an effort is being made to slide the ground from under the feet of this spectacular movement,” she said.

Noting that the “citizen is being treated like an enemy by the government”, Roy said the answer to the question of “What is the alternative [to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government]” was “Everybody”. Roy also took recourse to history to explain that “people have gotten through even more difficult periods” and, thus, her advice was that one should not despair. “As the breath is squeezed out of our bodies, our lungs need to expand,” she said. The battle against the BJP was a “battle of lovers against haters”, she said, adding that a troubling question for her was “how people are persuaded to vote against their own interests”.

(The talk is available at

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