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Media’s Lacklustre coverage of Gauri Lankesh’s murder

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Gauri Lankesh, the prominent Bangalore based journalist was brutally shot dead on the night of 5th September outside her home at Rajarajeshwari Nagar. The 55-year-old journalist was the editor of the Kannada tabloid “Gauri Lankesh Patrike”. She was a staunch critic of Hindu right-wing politics orchestrated by the BJP. She was also well known for bringing the naxalites into mainstream. She battled for the rights of Dalits, farmers and other minority communities.

Murder of Gauri Lankesh was not an unprecedented event. This is not the first time when an anti-right wing journalist has been killed. In 2015, the outspoken academic M.M. Kalburgi was also shot dead by unidentified assailants. In fact, even the gun used for Lankesh’s murder was the same as Kalburgi. Another anti-right activist, Govind Pansare, was also murdered in 2015. In 2013, it was Narendra Dabholkar, unsurprisingly even he was anti-Hindutuva.

With the murder of Gauri Lankesh, a pattern has been established where anti-establishment journalists and activists are being killed. But this time something has changed as most of the media houses have come together to collectively condemn the killing. Journalists have realised that if this pattern continues, they could be next in line.

Immediately after the news of Lankesh’s murder, senior journalist Barkha Dutt rightly tweeted, “This is chilling scary and outrageous. So far always took online death & rape threats with a pinch of salt. Now we must all pause & wonder.” In her tweet, Barkha encapsulated the emotions of most of the journalists. Unlike the killings of Kalburgi, Pansare and Dabholkar, media has reacted very strongly this time. There was also a huge protest at the Press Club of India. According to Nidhi Razdan, this was the biggest protest that the press club has witnessed this year.

Although the media reacted very strongly showing their solidarity with Lankesh, the way they covered her death was not very ideal. Writing for “The Indian Express”, Shailaja Bajpai said, “The best way to remember her-and others like her-is to recall what she stood for. It does not lie in showing her dead and bloodied body, her face thinly veiled by a computer mosaic” but this is exactly what India Today did. They even created a comic book out of her murder, giving a bullet by bullet account of her murder. CNN-NEWS 18 made it into yet another trending hashtag by asking “#whokilledGauri”.

On the other hand, channels like “Republic” and “Times now”, after condemning the killing, turned it into yet another political battle by bringing in Congress. On Times Now, journalist R.Rajgopalan screamed continuously asking the UPA “what had they done” regarding the death of journalists during their time in office.

Republic’s coverage was also on the same parameters. Rather than asking broader questions regarding the freedom of press in India, they blamed the congress while shamelessly defending the BJP. Sumana Nandy, previously working with Republic TV, criticized the channel for their coverage of Gauri Lankesh’s murder. “A journalist is murdered in cold blood days after receiving death threats from the BJP-RSS cadres. And instead of questioning these murderers, you question the opposition? Where is the integrity?” Nandy asked.

Same was the case with NEWS X as they ran “BJP blames Congress for murder”-politics over Gauri’s death’. A scary event which has shaken the very roots of journalism has been shamelessly turned into a political blame-game between BJP and Congress. Both are blaming each other whereas the murderers are roaming freely.    

India ranks 138 in the world on press freedom which is a serious worry. Other than CNN-NEWS 18 no other news channel felt the need to highlight this and connect it to Gauri’s murder.

The questions should have been “Why was Gauri Lankesh murdered?” “What does this imply for the overall media scenario in India?” “What are the police doing?” Rather, the news channels launched a full blown investigation asking who literally killed Gauri, which actually is the job of the police.

When it comes to condemning and covering Gauri’s murder, international news organisations were not far behind. Writing for Al-Jazeera, Saif Khalid called her murder an “ominous portent for dissent in democracy and a brutal assault on the freedom of the press.” Western media organisations also showed their solidarity. In an opinion piece written in the “New York Times”, Sudipto Mondal actually asked the legit question “Why was Gauri Lankesh Killed?” which the Indian media organisations failed to ask.

For once, all the media organisations took a common stand by condemning and mourning the death of Gauri Lankesh which was admirable. But this is where the admiration ends. Their coverage of the incident was vague and lacklustre. As Shailaja Bajpai says, media failed to ask the right question of “why”, rather, were fixated with “who”. News channels like Times Now and Republic turned into yet another political conundrum. The coverage she got was extensive but it had its faults.                   

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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