29 January 1962|
Bangalore, Mysore State, India
5 September 2017 (aged 55)|
Bangalore, Karnataka, India
|Cause of death||Assassination|
P. Lankesh (father)|
Indrajit Lankesh (brother)
Kavitha Lankesh (sister)
Gauri Lankesh (29 January 1962 – 5 September 2017) was an Indian journalist-turned-activist from Bangalore, Karnataka. She worked as an editor in Lankesh Patrike, a Kannada weekly started by her father P. Lankesh, and ran her own weekly called Gauri Lankesh Patrike. She was shot to death by unknown assailants outside her home in Rajarajeshwari Nagar on September 5, 2017. At the time of her death, Gauri was known for being a critic of right-wing Hindu extremism. She was honored with Anna Politkovskaya Award for speaking against right-wing Hindu extremism, campaigning for women's rights and opposing caste based discrimination.
Early life and career
Gauri Lankesh was born in a Kannada Lingayat family on 29 January 1962. Her father is the poet-journalist P. Lankesh, who established the Kannada-language weekly tabloid Lankesh Patrike. She had two siblings, Kavitha and Indrajit.
Gauri started her career as a journalist with The Times of India in Bangalore. Later, she moved to Delhi with her husband, Chidanand Rajghatta. Shortly after, she returned to Bangalore, where she worked as a correspondent for the Sunday magazine for nine years. At the time of her father's death in 2000, she was working for the Eenadu's Telugu television channel in Delhi. By this time, she had spent 16 years of her life as a journalist.
When their father P. Lankesh died, Gauri and her brother Indrajit visited Mani, the publisher of Lankesh Patrike, and told him that they wanted to cease the publication. Mani convinced them against the idea. Gauri then became the editor of Lankesh Patrike, while her brother Indrajit handled the publication's business affairs.
Beginning in 2001, differences developed between Gauri and Indrajit over the paper's ideology. These differences became public in February 2005, when a report about a Naxalite attack on policemen, approved by Gauri, was published in the magazine. On 13 February, Indrajit (who was the paper's proprietor and publisher) withdrew the report, alleging that it favored the Naxals. On 14 February, Indrajit filed a police complaint against Gauri, accusing her of stealing a computer, printer, and scanner from the publication's office. Gauri filed a counter-complaint, accusing Indrajit of threatening her with a revolver. On 15 February, Indrajit held a press conference, where he accused Gauri of promoting Naxalism through the paper. Gauri held a separate press conference where she denied the accusation and stated that her brother was opposed to her social activism. Gauri subsequently started her own Kannada weekly called Gauri Lankesh Patrike.
Political views and ideology
Gauri was a staunch critic of right-wing Hindutva politics. In 2003, she opposed the Sangh Parivar's alleged attempts to Hinduise the Sufi shrine Guru Dattatreya Baba Budan Dargah located at Baba Budan giri. In 2012, while participating in a protest demanding a ban on communal groups in Mangalore, she stated that Hinduism was not a religion but a "system of hierarchy in society" in which "women are treated as second-class creatures". She endorsed a minority religion tag for the Lingayat community and headed the Komu Souharda Vedike, a communal harmony platform for the oppressed communities. She was also of the view that the followers of philosopher Basavanna were not Hindus.
Gauri was known for advocating freedom of the press. She had written about the wrongdoings of the Indian National Congress leader, D. K. Shivakumar, a close associate of the former Chief Minister of Karnataka, S. M. Krishna. She was opposed to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and ended her 35-year old friendship with Prakash Belawadi when the latter became a media advisor to the BJP during the Indian general election, 2014. In November 2014, the Congress-led Karnataka government appointed Gauri as a member of a committee aimed at convincing the Naxalites to give up violence and surrender. However, a delegation of BJP leaders accused her of being a Naxalite sympathiser and demanded her removal from the committee. The chief minister Siddaramaiah rejected the demand.
Gauri was openly critical of the caste system. In 2015, some Brahmins accused her of criticising the novelist S. L. Bhyrappa and Brahminism during the 81st Kannada Sahitya Sammelana (Kannada literary conference) held at Shravanabelagola. At the conference, Gauri remarked that the low-caste author Perumal Murugan was criticised by right-wing Hindu groups for depicting a childless Hindu couple who indulged in consensual sex rituals outside of marriage in order to have children. She then pointed out that the Brahmin novelist S. L. Bhyrappa had also depicted the similar Niyoga practice in his novel Parva, a retelling of the Hindu epic Mahabharata. She clarified that she was supportive of both these writers, and asked why the Hindu groups who were offended by Perumal Murugan were not offended by Bhyrappa. On 19 February 2015, protesters from the Hassan Zilla Brahmin Sabha ("Hassan district Brahmin Association") organised a rally against her, urging the police to register a First Information Report against her.
Defamation conviction in 2016
On 23 January 2008, Gauri published an article titled "Darodegilada BJP galu" in her newspaper. The article criticised the BJP leaders Pralhad Joshi, Umesh Dushi, Shivanand Bhat, and Venkatesh Mestry. The article stated that the three BJP workers had cheated a jeweller of ₹100,000. It also stated that the jeweller sought justice from Member of Parliament Joshi and threatened to approach the police should Joshi refuse to help him. Gauri later said that the article was based on "sources within the BJP".
Gauri stated that she was being targeted for her left-leaning political views, as the BJP leaders did not sue other local dailies who had published the same allegations. Gauri moved the case to the High Court, seeking dismissal of the case against her. However, in 2016, the High Court refused to dismiss the case and gave instructions for the hearing to be continued in the lower court. The High Court granted a four-week stay on the case, however, and directed the lower court to complete the trial within six months.
In October 2016, the second Judicial Magistrate First Class (JMFC) Court at Hubli issued an arrest warrant for Gauri after she failed to appear before the court and did not respond to earlier warrants. The police detained her and produced her before the court on 1 October 2016. She was released on bail after furnishing a personal bond of ₹25,000.
On 27 November 2016, the second JMFC court concluded that Gauri had failed to provide any substantial evidence for her criticism of the BJP leaders and found her guilty of defamation. The court imposed a fine of ₹5,000 on her in each case. Besides the total fine of ₹10,000, the court also sentenced her to six months imprisonment. Her co-accused, Devanand Jagapur, was acquitted by the same court. The same court granted her anticipatory bail, however, which made her avoid prison time.
Gauri stated that the BJP leaders had managed to cover their tracks by reaching a compromise with the jeweler; she refused to disclose her source for the corruption allegations against them. She also described the court verdict as a temporary setback and declared that she would challenge it in the higher court.
Gauri and Chidanand Rajghatta divorced after five years of marriage; she remained single after the separation. Although she lived alone and did not have any children, Gauri considered the activists Jignesh Mevani, Kanhaiya Kumar, Umar Khalid and Shehla Rashid Shora as her "adopted children".
On 5 September 2017, three unidentified men shot Gauri to death at her house in Rajarajeshwari Nagar, Bangalore. The men fired at least seven bullets at her at around 8 p.m. while she was unlocking the main door of her house after returning from her office. One of the killers, who was waiting for her near her house, fired the first shots at her, while the two others, who are suspected to have followed her from her office, joined the initial shooter thereafter. The killers were wearing helmets and escaped on a two-wheeler Honda Dio after the murder. Three of the bullets pierced Gauri's head, neck, and chest, resulting in her death at the scene.
The murder was condemned by several people and organisations, including the Bharatiya Janata Party, the Indian National Congress and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. The Congress leader and Karnataka Home Minister Ramalinga Reddy compared the murder to that of Narendra Dabholkar and M. M. Kalburgi. The state police chief, R. K. Dutta, refused to suggest any possible suspects without investigation. The BJP leader K. S. Eshwarappa criticised the Congress-led state government for allegedly failing to protect the lives of Gauri and other writers like Kalburgi. Protests over her death took place all across India, including a rally in Bangalore a week after the murder attended by more than 15,000 people.
Gauri was given a state funeral with a gun salute on 6 September, after her body was kept for a few hours at Ravindra Kalakshetra for the public to pay tribute. She was buried in accordance with Lingayat customs. Her family did not follow any religious customs for her as she identified as a rationalist. The BBC described as the most high-profile journalist murdered in recent years.
During their investigation, the police accessed CCTV footage from her residence and the route leading from Basavanagudi to her house. The city was kept on high alert the day after her death, with police being deployed at toll gates in Nelamangala, Hosur Road and NICE Road in search of the killers. Vehicles entering or exiting the city underwent stringent checks, while police in the neighbouring states of Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu were also alerted. On 8 September, the Karnataka government announced a reward of ₹10 lakh for providing information about the killers.
In 2018, the Special Investigation Team (SIT) probing the murder case detained two suspects, whom they also suspected of being involved in the murders of Dabholkar and Kalburgi. In June 2018, the SIT stated that Parashuram Waghmore had confessed to the murder: he claimed that he was told to kill someone to save his religion, and that he did not know who the victim was.
Notes and references
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- "Who is Gauri Lankesh?". The Indian Express. 5 September 2017. Archived from the original on 6 September 2017.
- "'Being a woman is my security right now'". rediff.com. 3 May 2000. Archived from the original on 28 March 2010.
- "'Lankesh Patrike' family splits". The Times of India. 15 February 2005. Archived from the original on 5 September 2017.
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- Parvathi Menon (6 December 2003). "A communal campaign". Frontline. The Hindu. 20 (25). Archived from the original on 6 September 2017.
- "Mangalore: Speakers at Komu Souharda Vedike Protest Urge Ban on Communal Outfits". Daijiworld. 4 August 2012. Archived from the original on 6 September 2017.
- Jayanthi Madhukar (20 April 2014). "Gauri and Kavitha Lankesh—Tale of two sisters". The Times of India. Archived from the original on 30 October 2016.
- "A friendship of 35 years broke". Bangalore Mirror. 16 May 2014.
- B.S. Satish Kumar (15 November 2004). "BJP wants Gauri Lankesh out of naxal panel". The Hindu. Archived from the original on 6 September 2017.
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- "Gauri Lankesh's murder: Karnataka government announces Rs 10 lakh reward for anyone providing clues". The Times of India. 8 September 2017. Retrieved 8 September 2017.
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- Rajiv Kalkod (16 June 2018). "I killed Gauri Lankesh to save my religion: Waghmore to SIT". The Times of India.