With the brutal killing of the outspoken, Left-leaning journalist Gauri Lankesh, it’s been left to her younger sibling, Kavitha Lankesh, to pick up the pieces and hold the family together, presenting a united face with her brother Indrajit who runs a rival paper and who she insists, bore no ill-will against their slain sister. Raising red flag about the faceless men who are forcing a majoritarian viewpoint on the country, she says her late father, the iconic P. Lankesh, was far more aggressive in expression his views or supporting an ideology, and yet it’s her sister who has been violently silenced because of growing intolerance in the country towards diversity in ideologies.
In an interview with B.R. Srikanth, Kavitha, the distraught filmmaker who was all set to release her Kannada movie where Gauri plays herself, an activist, says that a miniscule minority is forcing everyone to speak in one voice. Excerpts:
Life must be very difficult for you after Gauri fell to bullets on Tuesday night?
It has not sunk in yet. I have not had the time to mourn. She was my best friend, my soulmate. When I saw Gauri in that state (with bullet injuries), I was hurt and devastated but I was amazed when I saw the turnout (at her funeral) and the protests. I did not realise that she had left such an impact on people. She would show me posts on social media against her, but she would not react. My father was more than a firebrand journalist. He brought down governments with his exposes on corruption, and took an anti-government stand as soon as a new dispensation assumed office. But he was never threatened or harmed. Now we have reached a stage when you cannot have difference of opinion. During the last five or seven years, our country has turned intolerant, and some communal forces want everyone to speak in one voice.
Did Gauri try to emulate your father with extremely vocal views?
She was an English journalist, but she and my brother took upon themselves the mantle of running the paper (after P. Lankesh’s death). She was a liberal leftist, but soft-spoken just like my father and not aggressive on public platforms. She was more vocal on social media, and that’s why she garnered such support while some have applauded the heinous crime. She was not a card-carrying member of any party. She used to warn the state government of protests and dharnas. She kept reminding chief minister Siddaramaiah about the unsolved murder of M.M. Kalburgi but never asked for security for herself.
Did she mention any threats, or that she was a vulnerable target?
She never felt that she needed security. She just told us as recent as Sunday evening that somebody was stalking her, and somebody was suspiciously hanging around her house. Perhaps she did not suspect that this man could be connected to some organisation or a group waiting to harm her, and we too did not connect.
Who will step in and run the newspaper now?
Gauri found it very difficult to continue to publish the newspaper and was, for the last couple of months, thinking whether to turn it into an e-paper. She was dead serious about taking forward my father’s ideology and she also took up other issues. Sometime next week, my mom and I will take a call about whether we can turn it into an e-paper. She (Gauri) went to the government for the first time for advertisements for a special edition in book format for Deepavali because the funds would have helped sustain the paper till next year’s Assembly elections in Karnataka. I am not cut out to step into her shoes as a crusader and editor of the paper, nor will my brother be able to manage two editions, as he too has encountered difficulties running his paper. And my mother has no inkling about politics, and will not know the difference between SIT and CBI. So an e-paper will be the only possibility because she had a tough time managing purchase of newsprint and printing.
Was she in debt?
I don’t know. She has never asked me for financial help. Six months ago, I asked my mother to visit her office and check the accounts and financial position, but Gauri said, “don’t worry I can manage”. She lived a frugal life, perhaps like most bachelors do, and one day when some of our production team was at her place, we found that she did not even have an onion at home.
Your comments on various suggestions about who shot Gauri?
She had no personal rivalry. The only rivalry I see was because of her ideology, and a miniscule number has been virulently against her. This miniscule number has no idea about why somebody is supporting an ideology, or perhaps her support to Naxalites, who want to join the mainstream. These people misuse social media to attack anyone who has an independent thought or a different ideology.
But Gauri was rabid while posting comments on social media?
That could be one reason. We told her to be moderate, but she could have been thrashed on social media, why kill her? It’s okay to react, but not to the extent of harming and killing. The same thing happened with Dr Kalburgi and others, so where are we headed? At the funeral, a college student came up to me and asked madam should we not speak up? What about independent views expressed through articles or posts on the social media? Even authors are not spared. So it is a united voice but a forced voice which this faceless minority is forcing. Just look at instances of moral policing in Mangalore, and the controversy about eating beef. Some people have been lynched for storing or eating beef.
Why such intolerance to diversity in ideologies?
I think the media is promoting this one-voice phenomenon and people like Gauri and others are being silenced. I think half the media, both print and electronic, is owned by right-wing controlled entities, and smaller newspapers and editors like Gauri have been targeted because they have an independent ideology.
Some people suspect the role of Naxals in Gauri’s murder?
I highly doubt that because a Naxalite has never come out and killed anyone in the city. Many Naxals who came into mainstream after giving up weapons did not send her hate mails or calls. For us, whoever killed her and whoever is behind the murder must be nailed… Naxalites are not terrorists and those who are suggesting that Naxalites could have harmed Gauri, they have very little understanding about the Naxal movement.
Dr Subramanian Swamy has pointed at rivalry between your brother Indrajit and Gauri?
A fallout within our family? Every attempt is being made to divert attention from the killers… What dispute can we have when all property issues were settled long ago? She was living in a house owned by my mother. If she had any property, she would have sold it and used the money to run the paper, and to support other social causes. My brother and Gauri respected each other and never questioned each other’s ideological stands. In every family, siblings have different views or ideologies. My brother and Gauri did not have such deep differences to plot a killing. I am sorry to say that the media (electronic) is trying to keep such debates alive by throwing up all types of conjectures, and gain TRPs.
Do you have faith in the state government and police officers investigating Gauri’s murder?
We are optimistic as officers of SIT came to us and assured that they will do their best. The chief minister knew the whole family and treated Gauri like his daughter. We feel that he will render justice. We will take a call after a couple of weeks, but people should not read much into Indrajit’s statement that the CBI should take up investigation. He meant that in case the state government fails to solve my sister’s murder, the CBI should take up the case. It’s not as though the CBI has solved all cases handed over to them. We have to give the SIT some time because I believe a lot of footwork is involved.