A large crowd gathered at the Bharat Scouts and Guides auditorium in Bengaluru on Monday to pay tributes to journalist-activist Gauri Lankesh on the 5th anniversary of her murder.
The chief guests of the programme, organised by the Gauri Memorial Trust, included the late journalist’s sister and film director Kavitha Lankesh, Booker Prize winner Arundhati Roy, actor Prakash Raj, journalist and Alt News cofounder Mohammed Zubair and prominent rights activist Teesta Setalvad.
Students, activists, citizens and friends and colleagues of Gauri attended the programme amid heavy police presence. Zubair and Setalvad could not attend the programme personally. Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Manjinder Singh Sirsa has filed a police complaint against Zubair accusing him of “spreading hate” against cricketer Arshdeep Singh and the Sikh community with his tweet.
Roy had accepted the invitation to speak at the programme just days after the passing of her mother Mary Roy in Kerala. “Three days ago, I buried my mother and I didn’t know whether my heart would allow me to leave her grave. But I’m here because she would have been ashamed of me if I hadn’t come,” the eminent author said to rapturous applause.
Reflecting on the paradigm shift in the political system, Roy said, “In the early 90s, two locks were opened: one of the Babri Masjid and the other of the market [economic liberalisation]. When they opened those two locks, they unleashed two kinds of fundamentalism—religious and economic.”
Explaining how the government had “two different reasons to become a security state”, Roy said, “In the name of Islamic terrorism and anti-development protests, everything became an excuse for the state to secure itself.”
The author was at her searing best as she reflected on political horse-trading. “The richest political party in the world can topple (state) governments and buy members of Legislative Assemblies at will. I have a suggestion: like during the Kisan Andolan, our elected representatives should also start campaigning for MSP—but this time for MLAs and MPs,” she said.
Roy also condemned the release of 11 rapists of Bilkis Bano, who had also murdered 14 members of her family, through the legal process. There is an “attempt to destroy the legal trail of the Gujarat pogrom for international reasons while claiming its political legacy for internal reasons”, she said.
Admiring Setalvad’s work in documenting “the atrocities committed in the 2002 Gujarat riots”, Roy said, “This meticulous documentation should one day provide evidence of ‘war crimes’ because that is what happened in Gujarat.”
Raj said that “it has been five years since Gauri died and her killers are in jail, but the people who ordered the killing are free”. “We should also understand the reason for the release of Bilkis Bano’s rapists. The message is that ‘if you commit atrocities in the name of our ideology, we are here to protect you,’” he said.
Union home minister “Amit Shah recently said that society should not misunderstand the concept of jail. He said that just because a person went to jail does not mean he is a convict. Does this mean that we should keep garlands ready and expect more people to be released?” the actor added.
Kavitha spoke about the “rise in communal incidents in Karnataka, especially in Shivamogga district. “When I was making a documentary on Gauri, I met [journalist] Ravish Kumar. I asked him is there any hope? Will there be a change if the regime changes and the BJP is out of power? He said, ‘No.’ People have been weaponised,” she said.