By Arifa Khan, Post Graduate College of Law, Osmania University, Hyderabad.

Journalism can never be silent: that is its greatest virtue and its greatest fault. It must speak, and speak immediately, while the echoes of wonder, the claims of triumph and the signs of horror are still in the air. -Henry Anatole Grunwald

Journalism is a very noble profession that makes people aware of things happening in the world around us. The journalists bring out the truth, which is why, many a time, it is considered a dangerous profession and it surely has been backed up by proper evidence.

Seventy journalists have been killed in India between 1992 and 2016; according to a report by IndiaSpend, 142 reporters have been attacked over a two-year time period until 2015. This is not just the case in India, 122 journalists and media professionals were killed in 2016 globally, 93 of them in targeted killings and others in natural disasters and accidents, while India witnessed the death of five scribes and was eighth on the list. Ram Chander Chhatrapati, the journalist who first exposed the rape complaints against Ram Rahim, for instance, was shot dead in 2002.  

Amongst all these murders, one recent murder stood out, Gauri Lankesh, an independent nationally renowned journalist-activist was shot dead outside her house by unidentified men in Bangalore on the night of September 5, 2017. She was the editor of a Kannada weekly and ran her own weekly “Gauri Lankesh Patrike”. Her father is the famous poet-journalist P. Lankesh, who established the Kannada-language weekly tabloid Lankesh Patrike. She was one of the most courageous anti-establishment voices in the State. She was a fierce critic of Hindutva and right-wing organisations. She combined the vernacular and the cosmopolitan through hard work with its questionable links to politics and corruption to create cosmopolitanism. This murder led to widespread speculation that she was targeted by right-wing organisations.

The Special Investigating Team and Karnataka Police have been appointed to look into this case. The Karnataka Police recently informed the media that the CCTV footage showed the suspected killer. They are using the lead from the footage to probe every angle and question those who worked with her about the threats she had faced. The probe team also questioned a history-shooter Kunigal Giri, whose associates were found near Gauri’s house. Giri is being questioned for his involvement in the rampant arms deals in the city. Police are questioning two former Naxals who were brought into mainstream by Gauri Lankesh. The SIT team is visiting popular places where unlicensed firearms are made to find out the owner of the gun, using which the journalist was killed. Vijayapura has recorded the highest number of arrests under the Illegal Arms Act so far. A team of SIT officials visited the Bangalore Central Jail as well to question various inmates including sharpshooters and contract killers.

After the preliminary forensic analysis of bullets and cartridges found at the site of shooting of Gauri Lankesh and those recovered from the killing of Kannada research scholar M M Kalburgi two years ago, it has been revealed that the same 7.65-mm country made pistol was used for the two killings. Kalburgi was killed at his home in North Karnataka on August 30, 2015 by an unidentified gunman who rang his doorbell. The same gun was also used for the shooting down of Maharashtra rationalist Govind Pansare, 81, on February 16, 2015 in Kolhapur. A further comparison revealed that the second gun used to shoot Pansare was the same gun that was used to kill Dabholkar. In the 2013 killing of Dabholkar, the motorcycle borne assailant fired four bullets.

If we look at Lankesh’s death as the murder of a rationalist, it clearly fits with the pattern of killings of Dabholkar, Pansare and Kalburgi. All these killings have been carried out in a similar manner. Those, after all, were the people who attacked superstition and struck at the core of fundamentalist mythologies. That enrages the crazies. It is evident that these killers have a pattern. The Karnataka Government has thus, extended police protection to writers, rationalists and progressive thinkers in the State, on the advice of the Intelligence Department.

Although activists of the Sanatan Sanstha (Right-Wing) have emerged as the primary suspects in the present case, the Karnataka SIT is also pursuing investigations on other lines and questioned family members of Lankesh and some associates whom she had helped move out of the Naxal movement into the mainstream.

In the midst of a genuine outpouring of grief and outrage, right-wing activists started justifying or even celebrating her killing. On and off social media, sections of the Right not only applauded her murder, but used various false and questionable claims to say it was “justified”. That she had it coming. That her deeds had come back to haunt her.

Lankesh stood up for all of us. One candle-light vigil in memory of the journalist Gauri Lankesh will not do justice for her. She was not just a person, she represented an idea. All of these murders were only aimed at silencing an idea. They were killed by an ideology harmful to our Constitution. Gauri’s murder is a wake-up call for press freedom; it’s also a reminder to honour those who went before her, and those who may, God forbid, follow. The police and the government should make sure she and the other journalists get the justice they deserve.  How many journalists will the police protect and for how long? Journalists need to have the security to write what they have to and the assurance that they would be safe if they bring out the truth against whoever it might be. They should be able to do their job.

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity and do not in any way represent the views of the website.