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Journalist Gauri Lankesh

BENGALURU SEPT 6 :  Three unidentified men on motorbikes shot  Journalist Gauri Lankesh  to death at her house in Rajarajeshwari Nagar, Bangalore.

The men shot at least seven bullets at Gauri while she was unlocking the main door of her house after returning from her office, at around 8 pm. Three of the bullets pierced her head, neck and chest, resulting in her death at the scene.

The murder garnered reactions from several people and organisations, including the Bharatiya Janata Party, the Indian National Congress and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh.

The Congress leader and Karnataka Home Minister Ramalinga Reddy compared the murder to that of Narendra Dabholkar and M. M. Kalburgi. However, the state police chief R K Dutta refused to suggest any possible suspects without investigation. The BJP leader K. S. Eshwarappa criticised the Congress-led state government for allegedly failing to protect the lives of Gauri and other writers like Kalburgi.

Gauri Lankesh was born into a Hindu family in 1962 to the poet-journalist P. Lankesh, who established the weekly Kannada language tabloid Lankesh Patrike.[1] She had two siblings, Kavitha and Indrajit.

Gauri started her career as a journalist with the The Times of India in Bangalore. Later, she moved to Delhi with her husband Chidanand Rajghatta. Shortly after, she returned to Bangalore, where she worked as a correspondent for the Sunday magazine for nine years. At the time of her father’s death in 2000, she was working for the Eenadu‘s Telugu television channel in Delhi. She had spent 16 years as a journalist by this time.

Lankesh Patrike

When their father P. Lankesh died, Gauri and her brother Indrajit visited Mani, the publisher of Lankesh Patrike, and told him that they wanted to cease the publication. Mani convinced them against the idea. Gauri then became the editor of the Lankesh Patrike, while her brother Indrajit handled the publication’s business affairs.

Beginning in 2001, differences developed between Gauri and Indrajit over the paper’s ideology. These differences became public in February 2005, when a report about a Naxalite attack on policemen, approved by Gauri, was published in the magazine. On 13 February, Indrajit (who was the paper’s proprietor and publisher) withdrew the report, alleging that it favoured the Naxals. On 14 February, Indrajit filed a police complaint against Gauri, accusing her of stealing a computer, printer and scanner from the publication’s office. Gauri filed a counter complaint, accusing Indrajit of threatening her with a revolver. On 15 February, Indraji held a press conference, where he accused her of promoting Naxalism through the paper. Gauri held a separate press conference, where she denied the accusation, and stated that her brother was opposed to her social activism.[4] Gauri subsequently started her own Kannada weekly called Gauri Lankesh Patrike.

Political views and ideology

Gauri has been a staunch critic of the right-wing Hindutva politics. In 2003, she opposed the Sangh Parivar‘s alleged attempts to Hinduise the Sufi shrine Guru Dattatreya Baba Budan Dargah, located at Baba Budan giri.[6] In 2012, while participating in a protest demanding ban on communal groups in Mangalore, she stated that Hinduism was not a religion, but a “system of hierarchy in society”, in which “women are treated as second class creatures”.[7] She endorsed minority religion tag for the Lingayat community and headed the Komu Souharda Vedike, a communal harmony platform for the oppressed communities. She was also of the view that the followers of philosopher Basavanna were not Hindus.

Gauri was known for advocating freedom of the press. She had written about the wrongdoings of the Indian National Congress leader D. K. Shivakumar, a close associate of the former Chief Minister S. M. Krishna. She was opposed to the Bharatiya Janata Party(BJP), and broke her 35-year old friendship with Prakash Belawadi, when the latter became a media advisor to BJP during the Indian general election, 2014. In November 2014, the Congress-led Karnataka government appointed Gauri as a member of a committee aimed at convincing the Naxalites to give up violence and surrender. A delegation of BJP leaders accused her of being a Naxalite sympathiser, and demanded her removal from the committee. However, the chief minister Siddaramaiah rejected the demand.

                   She was openly critical of the caste system. In 2015, some Brahmins accused her of criticising the novelist S. L Bhyrappa and Brahminism during the 81st Kannada Sahitya Sammelana (Kannada literary conference) held at Shravanabelagola

At the conference, Gauri had remarked that the low-caste author Perumal Murugan was criticised by right-wing Hindu groups for depicting a childless Hindu couple, who indulge in consensual sex rituals outside of marriage in order to have children. She had pointed out that the Brahmin novelist S. L. Bhyrappa had also depicted the similar Niyoga practice in his novel Parva, a re-telling of the Hindu epic Mahabharata. She clarified that she was supportive of both these writers, but questioned why the Hindu groups that were offended by Perumal Murugan were not offended by Bhyrappa. On 19 February 2015, protesters from the Hassan Zilla Brahmin Sabha (“Hassan district Brahmin Association”) organised a rally against her, urging the police to register a First Information Report against her.

Defamation conviction in 2016

On 23 January 2008, Gauri published an article titled Darodegilada BJP galu in her tabloid. The article criticised the BJP leaders Pralhad Joshi, Umesh Dushi, Shivanand Bhat and Venkatesh Mestry.[ The article claimed that the three BJP workers had cheated a jeweller of ₹100,000. It further alleged that the jeweller sought justice from the Member of Parliament Joshi, and threatened to approach police in case Joshi refused to help him. Gauri later claimed that the article was based on “sources within the BJP”.

Joshi and Dushi filed separate defamation suits against Gauri.[13] In Dushi’s case, she was a co-accused with Devanand Jagapur, the writer of the article.[15]

Gauri alleged that she was being targeted for her left-leaning political views, as the BJP leaders did not sue other local dailies who had published the allegations.[14] Gauri moved the High Court, seeking dismissal of the case against her. However, in 2016, the High Court refused to dismiss the case, and asked the hearing to be continued in the lower court. The High Court granted a four-week stay on the case, and directed the lower court to cSomplete the trial within six months.

In October 2016, the second Judicial Magistrate First Class (JMFC) Court at Hubli issued an arrest warrant for Gauri, after she failed to appear before the court and did not respond to the earlier warrants. The police detained her and produced her before the court on 1 October 2016. She was released on bail after furnishing a personal bond of ₹25,000.

On 27 November 2016, the second JMFC court concluded that she had failed to provide any substantial evidence for her criticism of the BJP leaders, and found her guilty of defamation. The court imposed a fine of ₹5,000 on her in each case. Besides the total fine of ₹10,000, the court also sentenced her to six months imprisonment. Her co-accused Devanand Jagapur was acquitted by the same court. The same court granted her anticipatory bail, and thus, she avoided prison time.

Gauri claimed that the BJP leaders had managed to cover their tracks by reaching a compromise with the jeweller, and refused to disclose her source for the corruption allegations against them. She described the court verdict as a temporary setback and declared that she would challenge it in the higher court.EOM


M K Vidyaranya

M K Vidyaranya

Senior Journalist, Executive Editor at Media World , worked as the Chief of Bureau of the Press Trust of India (PTI) national news agency’s Karnataka Unit also worked as a Senior Journalist in Vijay Times (now defunct) , Karnataka’s second largest circulated English daily.(Times of India group). My father late M R Krishnamurthy who died at the age of 81 (20 years ago) was a Freedom Fighter and Journalist who had worked for Indian Express, Kannada Prabha, Viswakarnataka, Tainadu, Janavani and other news papers. I was also editing few evening English newspapers, weeklies and fortnightlies. besides running the FAXNEWS News agency.

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