In the late evening hours of 5th September, 2017, journalist and activist Gauri Lankesh was unlocking the door to her house after a long day at work. However, she was never destined to set foot inside again, as armed assailants fired seven shots before fleeing, some of which hit Lankesh and led to her death at the scene.
Lankesh was an outspoken critic of right-wing and Hindutva ideologies, and it is widely believed that this was the reason she was targeted. This corresponds with a lot of the arrests that have been made in the case, most of whom—including the people who shot her—were people who belonged to Hindutva groups.
Lankesh was one of three children born to poet and journalist Palya Lankesh who established the weekly Kannada-language Lankesh Patrike. Lankesh followed in her father’s footsteps, starting out in the Times Of India and then working with Sunday magazine for close to a decade. She married, and later divorced, opinion columnist Chidanand Rajghatta, after which she remained single.
Lankesh had been a journalist for 16 years when her father passed away. She and her brother Indrajit initially planned on ceasing the publication of Lankesh Patrike, but was convinced by the publisher to continue. Gauri became the editor, while Indrajit handled the business side of things. However, due to creative and ideological differences, the siblings had a falling out, leading to Gauri establishing her own Kannada weekly called Gauri Lankesh Patrike.
In the last few days before her death, Lankesh and her team were in the process of reshaping her magazine, Gauri Lankesh Patrike. After her death, the staff of Gauri Lankesh Patrike published the last edition of the magazine before shutting it down for a few months.
A year after her death, the staff released the first edition of Nyaya Patha (Way Of Justice), a weekly Kannada-language tabloid. Currently, they also run two websites, Gauri Lankesh News in English and Naanu Gauri in Kannada.
Lankesh’s death was described by the BBC as the most high-profile journalist murdered in recent years. A Karnataka Special Investigation Team (SIT) was formed in 2018 to probe the murder case. The charge sheet for the 18 arrested for their involvement in the case runs thousands of pages long and supposedly provides damning evidence, but similar to cases of other murdered journalists, the case is slow to move forward in court, especially due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Lankesh’s family, along with the families of journalists like M.M. Kalburgi have been appealing to the state government for a special fast-track court to be set up to ensure speedy justice, especially after special measures such as SITs and length investigations to ensure an in-depth probe into the cases.
In light of the third anniversary of Lankesh’s death, activists all over the country are organising a campaign by the name of #IfWeDoNotRise, to speak out against the crackdown on dissenting journalists and activists. Many journalists have been murdered in manners similar to Lankesh and others are arrested under laws like the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, which has been accused of being misused to clamp down on freedom of speech.
Those protesting against rightward shift in governance look up to figures like Gauri Lankesh who paid for their activism with their life, but are also raising their voices to ensure that it doesn’t happen again. Forgetting Lankesh and the circumstances of her death means forgetting the constant threat of Hindutva indoctrination and its violence, which is only increasing under the present ruling dispensation.