“Gauri akka this is my salaam of love”: Tribute to Gauri Lankesh



Tring Tring Tring…

If the call got disconnected after three rings, I knew it was Gauri Lankesh who was trying to call me. I would excuse myself from the patient I would be attending to and call her back. She would disconnect the call if the person she was calling did not answer her call immediately. According to her, the person would be busy if she/ he would not answer the call even after the third ring; and she would say, she can’t wait till the person answered her call and burst into a loud laughter. 

It is saddening to believe that I would not be receiving the call of three rings anymore. On 5 September, 2017 Gauri Lankesh was shot dead in front of her own house. Her death has created a vacuum in the minds of the creative communities; it has saddened all of us, and has caused anger. Her death has left us with countless questions. 

I am reminded of a story: A wicked man catches a beautiful bird and hides it in his fist. He would then ask you to guess whether the bird is alive or dead. If you said it was alive, he would tighten his fist and kill it, and if you would say it was dead, then he would kill it in front of you. I wonder if this is the story of the beautiful bird called freedom of expression. How many lives would we lose, because they wrote and spoke without any fear and exercised their freedom of expression?  For how long would we live caged like this? We are now haunted by many such similar questions. 

Gauri’s death is the result of the cowardice of those who are not equipped to fight ideology and thoughts with discussion and critique. They shot seven bullets at her, at someone who was fearless, and strong enough to wish for a death by half a bullet. They knew who they were killing; they wanted to silence a strong soul that feared no establishment. 

The fundamentalists had filed many cases against her, to distract her from her truthful work, by making her run about in every court in the state of Karnataka. In fact, she would kindly request all of us, not to invite her for any event in far-off places, as she was left with no time. She would say, “They have filed a case on me in every court in the state, and I have to present myself in every court. It is very difficult to travel and manage my time. Please do not invite me to far off places”. None of these cases, and death threats was successful in stopping her from continuing her work. She continued to be the fearless woman that she always had been. 

Gauri was like an elder sister: listening to, attending to the need of, and supporting various communities struggling for their existence in an oppressive system, controlled by the fundamentalist forces. Students’ organisations, women, dalit farmers, environment activists, tribal, sexual minorities’ struggles, and those communities that were attacked by the Hindu fundamentalists, always had her voice, and words with them. These activists were her family. She especially trusted, and loved the young activists. Her family of activists had grown large enough and had crossed the borders of the state of Karnataka. Activists in the far off lands like, Kanhaiya, Jignesh, Shehla Rashid, Chandrashekhar Azaad were like her children. It didn’t matter to her, where they came from, but if they were fighting for rights of the oppressed, they were very much an integral part of her life. 

Anyone who thinks and cares about human rights believes in the “3Ds”: Democracy, Dissent, and Diversity. Gauri Lankesh was always ready for an open discussion. I had once pointed out to her that she, unlike her father, P. Lankesh, was being too lenient in writing about Siddaramaiah (current chief minister of Karnataka). She had asked, “Is it?”, and went on to explain her reasons. She spoke to me about the changing times, and how different Karnataka now is, when compared to the times of P. Lankesh. 

I was once disappointed with one of her writings and I spoke to her about my disappointment. I had told her that I was disappointed with her communist view on the transformation of the great and radical tradition of Sharanas into a brahminical caste, Lingayat; and I had expected her, being a woman, to possess a different view on this transformation. She had very patiently listened to every word of my criticism, had accepted a few of them, and had promised to discuss it further in person. 

She would always say,  “I have accepted ageing gracefully by letting my hair turn white”. On asking her about the harsh words she would use in her writing, she would laugh and say, “These things are deaf. If I do not use harsh words, there is a chance that they will mistake my critique for a lullaby”. Gauri was different. She stood out as a fully mature activist in the progressive community which has many who are not open for discussion, and conversation. It was very easy to talk to her and that is what made her special for a lot of us friends. Her sense of humour was something that has to be remembered. She loved being close to people who she was surrounded by, and would light meetings up with her humour. 

Gauri gave a feminine voice to the social movements, especially the Naxal movement. The murders of Saket Rajan, and Parvati Hajima had shaken the ground beneath her. She strived day and night to bring their voices to the mainstream media. Gauri akka probably contributed in a large scale, in transforming the Naxal movement in Karnataka into the present day, non-violent and committed people`s movement..

With time, as they gained fame, many activists and movements develop an aura of vanity around themselves. This vanity is a path towards disappointment caused by the defeat of the ideology and the struggle. Gauri, believed in standing beyond party, ideology and organisation, and fight for a just society. That was an ultimate goal for her. She was showered with criticisms for being a communist and for standing in solidarity with the naxal movement. She never paid any attention to the harsh criticisms she had received and she continued her struggle for the cause of the oppressed. 

Gauri Lankesh worked towards bringing all the movements and activists together who were divided by ideologies. She envisioned a humane movement formed out of a unity of diverse ideologies. 

Her physical body was 55 years old. I think her biological age would have been double that age. Gauri lived a radical life. At a certain point, her life was about not sleeping and working and stubbing countless cigarettes. This was probably a way in which she found time to continue working, in spite of all the distractions caused by forces she was daringly fighting against. She is now a river of memories. 

Gauri was a dear friend of journalists, activists, scholars, politicians who cared for the society, thousands of young girls and boys. She now occupies a major space in an open field of memories of all her friends. When all of us are shocked, are angry, and are sad, we should not forget we have people living amongst us who are celebrating her death. We should not forget that there are people who are writing outrageous gossips about Gauri. We should not forget that, there are thoughtless and irrational forces amidst us. Those forces who have addressed everybody mourning Gauri Lankesh’s death as crows feeding on the offerings made for her soul.

Let us hope that these minds captured by darkness see some light sometime. 

The hope lies with the thousands of young voices hitting the streets and saying, “I am Gauri”. Their voice is our dream for a future which is characterised by diversity.

The trees that were green,
the flowers that were white, 
have turned red, as if they 
have sucked out your blood…
Gauri akka this is my salaam of love.


Read the tribute in the original Kannada here.