As we mark Gauri Lankesh Day today, a year after the outspoken journalist was felled by an assassin who didn’t even know who his target was, and note the groundswell of anger over how the intellectual class is being targeted for its criticism of the right-wing fringe elements, Neena Gopal speaks to Chidanand Rajghatta, Ms Lankesh's former husband and author of a book that talks not just of their relationship but the uncertain times we now live in.
Q: Did it strike you, when you first heard of Gauri Lankesh's killing what we know now, a year into her cold-blooded murder that she faced an undercurrent of hostility from the right wing for her outspoken criticism, which, whipped up by fringe elements, wants to silence all such criticism ?
A. Chidanand Rajghatta: There has been growing illiberalism in India from the extreme flanks, both right-wing and left-wing, but I did not think Gauri Lankesh had pressed the kind of buttons that could or should have caused anyone to plan her assassination. She was a simple, straight-align journalist who gravitated toward activism because she felt causes dear to her were under assault — secularism, egalitarianism, discrimination against minorities, women, the differently-oriented. I didn’t think all this would cause anyone to kill a female activist-journalist. It was incredibly cowardly. When I first heard of her killing, I did not immediately connect the dots with the killing of Kalburgi, Dabholkar, Pansare etc because they were more academic and she was a journalist. But the kind of celebration of her death and the abuse on social media over the next few days, left me in no doubt that she was eliminated by rightwing extremists.
Do you feel that everything has been done to track down her killers? It seems almost like a series of lucky breaks that got the police this far. How does that make you feel, personally? Do you feel some sense of closure?
A. From the little I know, I think the SIT has done an excellent job. The problem in India is not with the police, who usually strive with limited resources, but with the prosecution mechanism. Yes, all investigations need an element of luck — whether it is tracking down the killers of Rajv Gandhi or hunting down Osama bin Laden. But luck is also a consequence of perseverance.
Q.. Does it worry you that the plot to assassinate her has such a back story? Of people being made to read what she wrote, and her writings being used to whip up a hate campaign against writers and intellectuals like her ?
A. I’m more surprised than worried. It’s hard to imagine that people were so affected or agitated by her writing. My own attitude is most writing is transient, particularly in journalism. As someone famously observed, today’s newspaper is used to wrap tomorrow’s fish — or pakoda if you prefer. Writing does not kill. It should not kill or cause killing. If someone writing about your faith or religion, which you say is centuries old and rooted in tolerance, love etc, hurts you so much, it means you are insecure about your faith and religion. Either it does not pass the tolerance test or you are unworthy of being a follower of the religion.
Q. What is the most abiding memory that you have of her?
A. Feisty, fearless, and tireless. She was not afraid to speak her mind. But she also had a very compassionate outlook towards the poor and the less fortunate.
Q. Did any one of you caution her to be less critical, and if you had, would she have listened?
A. I don’t know about others but we spoke often about being more balanced and nuanced. As I mention in my book, she told me to "save such homilies", as she called it, "for journalism school". She had become more of an activist-journalist and believed in what she believed was plain-speaking. She was convinced about the causes and how to approach them and write about them in a local idiom that she felt appealed to her readership.
Q. What were her pet projects, apart from bringing the Naxals in from the cold? What would she have had to say about these arrests?
A. Beyond Naxals, she was also concerned about the discrimination against and demonization of minorities, especially Muslims and the upper caste hegemony over the Hindu fold. She argued frequently that Muslim youth are being unfairly targeted and the community at large is having to pay for the extremism of a few people. So a few Hindu radicals and extremists from a particular region have been caught now in the murder of four intellectuals; imagine if there is the same kind of demonization of that particular geographical area or the religious or linguistic community they belong to.
Q. In death, has she brought you closer to her family? I believe you were still close despite going your separate ways. Do tell us a little bit about what it was like being married to a woman like Gauri Lankesh.
A. I was close to the whole family, particularly her dad and sister, but she was the glue who kept us connected even though time and distance took me far away. Lankesh passed away in 2000 and I lost a bit of the connection and now with Gauri gone, I’m connected only with Kavitha by a few strands that I’ve tried to preserve. She is a wonderful sister who is trying to keep Gauri’s legacy alive and she herself is a woman of considerable accomplishment. Marriage was just a minor part of my ties with Gauri. She ennobled me with her friendship, which was a greater gift.
(Chidanand Rajghatta is the author of Illiberal India: Gauri Lankesh and the Age of Unreason)...