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Not Knowing

It is an opinion piece on the controversy behind Gauri Lankesh's death overshadowing her work.

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Not Knowing

Gauri Lankesh: Facebook / Via The Wire

I did not know Gauri Lankesh. I am sorry to say that I wasn’t familiar with her work. I had never hear of her or the Gauri Lankesh Patrike till about two days ago, when her photograph flashed across my screen with the headline “Bangalore- based Journalist killed outside her apartment.” Then one by one the stories started flooding in. Apparently she was being stalked for weeks, had received thousands of death threats over the years and managed to piss off some pretty influential people. As of now, Lankesh is being compared to other slain rationalist-activists like M.M Kalburgi, Govind Pansare and Narendra Dhaboldkar.

Articles are now emerging one after the other with all of their pictures side by side with links to celebrities twitter profiles depicting their disdain for the entire incident. It’s standard click-bait on most websites, with a Lankesh article ending with advertising for a profile on Kareena Kapoor’s baby or a link to Piyanka Chopra’s Paper magazine interview. The current headlines are tackling the right wing’s disdain for dissent and the boy who called Lankesh a ‘kutti’ upon hearing of her death. But what does any of this mean to people who are sitting in air-conditioned offices and writing about this? And what does it mean to those that are heading off to protests and marches in her name? I only have questions.

We live in uncertain times. The world is changing at such a fast pace that nobody honestly cares about anything, till it actually impacts them personally. Until then they will continue to live on as though they are invincible and immortal. I sit in an office with people for whom the Chainsmokers’ concert this evening is of more concern than the death of a voice. And to be honest I don’t blame them. My boss’s watch not working is a bigger tragedy for him than the death of a journalist whose work he had never heard of. The watch kept track of two time zones- one in Sweden and the other in India and was a gift from a friend. What did Lankesh do? As far as he is concerned this is all just a ploy to bring down the government that for him is trying to actually make a difference for a change.

I told my boss that there was a march happening for Lankesh in Bandra. He said, “You should have gone. I would have taken a photo of you and put it on my facebook.” This is the world that I live in. I wish I lived in the world of P Sainath, where a voice seems to be worth more than a quotable quote on social media. In Sainath’s world they care that Gauri is gone and that hers was a voice that was made to shut up. In Sainath’s world they care about the people that are responsible for “the culture of violence and terror that induces such killings, for the branding of dissenters as ‘anti-national’ and ‘traitors,’ and for inciting violence against” people like Gauri. In mine, they don’t.

Who was Gauri Lankesh? And in a world filled with such disdain and apathy, why did she care enough to speak about things that most people privileged enough to have a voice did not talk about?

What should not happen with the Lankesh case is what happened with Rushdie’s Satanic Verses. The name Satanic Verses outgrew its own content by such an extreme margin, that it became to represent something else in itself altogether. Very few people have actually read it the text or know what t entails. What is instead left of the text is merely its symbolic status and the subsequent fatwa for Rushdie that it lead to. Let’s not reduce Lankesh to merely a symbol of dissent, instead lets talk about the things that she wished to speak about. Those very things are conveniently being buried under headlines of the boy on Twitter that abused her death to get a few extra retweets and the government’s silence over the incident.

Lankesh was a staunch critic of the right-wing Hindutva politics. She also spoke against communities that treated women as “second class citizens”. She green lit the publication of a report in 2005, about Naxalite attacks on policemen. Her brother Idrajit withdrew the report a few days later on the grounds that it favored the Naxals. On 23rd January 2008, she published an article called ‘Darodegilada BJP galu’ criticizing the BJP leaders Prahlad Joshi, Umesh Dushi, Shivanand Bhat and Vekatesh Mestry, The article claimed that Dushi, Bhat and Mestry had cheated a jeweler of 1 lakh rupees and so the jeweler asked Joshi for help, who in return refused to do so. This article led to Lankesh being convicted of criminal defamation for the article by both Joshi and Dushi separately.

She ran a small weekly-publication that did not run any advertisements. In short her loyalty was not owed to any body other than herself. It is something that is almost unheard of in today’s world. Maybe that is why most people, other than the ones who understand Kannada and a handful of other intellectuals did not know of her. So it is almost ironic that the ones who murdered her to shut her up seem to have actually opened her up to the world. By all means use her quotable quotes on the freedom of speech and paste them on your walls. Her views should be things that you plaster on your walls. Go ahead and express your solidarity with the cause and the things she stood for. But more than anything else, talk about the things that she wanted to talk about. Be open to arguments and let the opinions be expressed. Don’t put anybody down and shame them for not knowing better. Explain things to them if they do not understand and let them express their opinions to you if you’re at odds with their ideologies.

We are all still discovering the world and there is so much that we don’t know. Learn from this. It would be a shame if we stopped learning from each other.

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