It truly feels like there’s a dark cloud above our heads today as the country tries to process the senseless murder of journalist and activist Gauri Lankesh last night outside her home in Bangalore. Gauri Lankesh was the editor of the Kannada tabloid Gauri Lankesh Patrike, and was known for her fearless attacks on communalism, casteism and right-wing propaganda. Most people understand that it was her fearless writing and sharp politics that caused her to be shot dead, just like that.
Women, journalists, writers, activists and artists, particularly in Karnataka, are mourning this huge loss as we speak, with protests and meetings being planned all over the country.
This morning, we spoke to some women who lived, worked and interacted with Gauri Lankesh during the course of her life and career. It’s a reflection of her sheer greatness that every single person we spoke to immediately mentioned her bravery, fearlessness and courage. This is what they had to say.
Malini Nair, former senior editor, Times of India
“When I had joined Times of India as an intern in the late 80s, she was already a reporter there. She was spunky and a very, very courageous person, quite reckless — in the sense — fearless. She didn’t have the kind of apprehensions you and I may have about upsetting someone by saying something. An unusually brave, outspoken reporter: That is my memory of her.
For our generation of journalists, she was someone to really look up to. She was everything you would really dream of being, and she knew her ground very well. Because her father was a journalist, it’s quite admirable how well she knew any issue she was talking about, especially within Karnataka. She was thoroughly soaked in the subject she would address, and that’s not something you can say about journalists any more. She was well informed about everything from art to agriculture.
This [murder] doesn’t affect me as a woman journalist, but as a journalist, it does. It shows it’s not safe for a journalist to be critical and outspoken of the establishment. I fear for my colleagues who do engage in the kind of investigative reporting that she did.”
CK Meena, columnist, The Hindu
I knew her since 1981 — there are so many memories of her. I feel she was more a passionate writer than a polished one. She was more of an activist, or rather, her activism was hand in hand with her journalism, unlike many of us who take an objective approach. But don’t get the impression she was always just haranguing everybody. She was quite feisty.
This morning I can hear her voice clearly, I can hear the sound of her voice. She was fun and mischievous also. This morning I remember, how she loved eating chandrahara [a popular sweet in Karnataka].
I don’t think of her as a ‘woman journalist’. But what she represented politically is what’s going to be endangered. It’ll try to shut the rest of us and that is something we should not let happen. It’s not a question of women and safety, it has everything to do with politics and which side you’re on. It’s a question of not being afraid.
Mamta Sagar, a poet, playwright and activist, Gauri’s old neighbour and a long-time childhood friend
When we called, Sagar tearfully said she was writing a song to be sung this evening at a gathering in her honour.
It all began with me, Gauri and another friend. Once, when Lankesh [Gauri’s father] was still alive we decided to drive down in Gauri’s car to Heggodu [to the theatre collective Neenasam] to see Macbeth. Lankesh said, “Oh three witches will go destroy Heggodu”.
It all began even before that [since we were children]. She was a very close friend, not just because we’re from the same generation, but we have the same politics. Whatever we believed, she spoke.
I’m coming to Bangalore this evening, I’m in Chennai right now, I came here to speak about human rights. She’s my neighbour in Rajarajeshwari Nagar — all my friends and family went to her house. Everyone gave me the news. I can’t understand how can anybody shoot her. Just killing someone? What the hell are we doing?
We had parties and fun, shared stances on politics, marginalisation, and gender. She was an amazing person and a hard worker, she always used to come home late. I don’t know why she came earlier [yesterday]. We should have insisted she have security. But you just can’t expect that she could be killed. It hasn’t sunken in yet. I’m unable to cry.
She’s such an amazing person. I have a son, who’s an artist — she loved him. Every time he visited, she would take him out and they would roam around doing whatever he wanted. Once, when she and my son went to the Indira Gandhi planetarium, they were so tired they slept inside the planetarium and didn’t see anything. The security guard had to wake them up and send them home. She was full of life and fun and positive energy. If people like her can be targeted, it’s a shame on us, it’s a shame on everyone in this society.
When Kalburgi was killed there was one big hungama and then [everyone] switched off. Only those who are activists who continuously protest came to the streets.
People who are safe will never understand. It’s high time people realise that this can happen to anyone for no reason. People like Gauri will give strength to people around, to the younger generation. People like Gauri who believe in our politics give strength to society. It’s not over, that she’s been shot and it’s done, we should realise that we need to make the change.
Bageshree S, deputy chief bureau, The Hindu
Gauri published some Faiz Ahmed Faiz’s poetry I’d translated to Kannada. During the publication process, we interacted, and that’s how I got to know her well. To be honest, I haven’t been in touch with her for a few years. You know how journalists are.
She was strikingly fearless and articulate, she never thought twice before telling the world what she thought. That didn’t go down well with people, but she didn’t care. No, she was still a caring and emotional person, but that didn’t stop her from saying what she had to say.
Especially because she’s a woman, people attacked her personally. The fact that she smoked mattered such a great deal to some! People would raise bullshit issues about her, like they do to women journalists. That never stopped her. Her friends told her to be careful, but it was not in her nature to be careful, calculating what she said and its implications, that was not in her.
I don’t think this will impact how women journalists work [frighten them]. She had her own publication, and that gave her a lot of freedom. Her brand of journalism was different, a class apart. When working for a publication, you think of defamation, etc, but she ran her own tabloid publication, so it was a different style. I don’t personally think the fact that she was a woman journalist was the reason for the killing. She antagonised many Sangh-type activists, she was close to people like Kanhaiya Kumar and others. It was not a woman thing, it was that and beyond.
Nimi Ravindran, founder, Sandbox Collective
I worked at India Today for 7 years. Gauri was extremely senior, part of a group of senior journalists in Bangalore. I was a trainee and would call these people for phone numbers and tips. Gauri was one of them: I knew nothing about her then. Later I connected her surname, Lankesh – not to her father the journalist, but her father the famous playwright. I met her at press conferences. You know how when you’re 22 years old, no one bothers about you at these events? But people like Gauri would say hi and talk to everyone, they were really out there. As years passed and I became fairly senior myself, when I was at India Today she would also call for contacts, we would meet as colleagues. Her sister is a filmmaker, and they would all watch me perform theatre and plays on occasion too.
She was so ‘fearfully courageous’. We all are fearfully courageous online, not in real life. But Gauri. Someone would say that she needs to be killed, and Gauri would just smile and brush it aside: it was really brave, like she was calling their bluff.
People like Gauri are so courageous we feel like they’re immortal. For me, I don’t know [Prof] Kalburgi: he’s like the PM or some other equally far-off, removed figure, but I knew Gauri. She was not far away, she right here: 10 kilometers from from me, I’ve hugged her, we’ve eaten vada in Ranga Shankara cafe together. I wouldn’t say we were great friends but when we met we would talk. But she was close, I feel like I know her very well even if I don’t know her. I was shaking when I heard about this last night, I couldn’t sleep. I was so shaken, I couldn’t stop crying. It’s one of the most shocking things I’ve ever heard. I feel like I need to do something now, except I don’t know what the fuck to do. Everyone needs to do something, if only we knew what. It’s just too much.