This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by Titas Biswas. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

‘Gauri’s Murder Was Part Of The Silencing Propaganda’: Kavitha Lankesh Speaks Out

More from Titas Biswas

Kavitha Lankesh is a noted film director and has won both international and national acclaim as well as awards to her films. Her first direction was “Deveeri”, based on P.Lankesh’s novel of the same title and throws light on the context of the caste issue and the lives of prostitutes in India. From then on, she has worked with numerous artists including Prakash Raj and Nandita Das for her films and continues to keep a focus on the social evils visible in almost every part of India, making her a very relevant figure in modern Indian cinema. Here is an excerpt of a chat my friend Sarat Sindhu Mukhopadhya and I had with her on a rainy afternoon at her home.

Kavitha Lankesh (KL): So, let us begin with you guys. What is the immediate problem that you have been facing in the fields you are involved with respectively?

Titas Biswas (TB) and Sarat: To admit the truth, both of us are still students, basically. The universities across India – including the universities we have been pursuing our higher education from are losing viability in terms of allowing their students to freely express their own viewpoints about everything beginning from the university campus to societal taboos and political rights.

A glaring example is Presidency University (previously known as Hindu College), which has an eminent history of over 200 years and its brilliant scholar alumni. Ever since 2011, the intensity of increasing oppression against students against basic rights like that of freedom of expression have been increasing at an amazing pace altogether!

The last two months observed violent protests at Jadavpur University premises against the Mamata Banerjee govt. regime’s attempt to completely abolish the student’s rights to form any kind of unions in the university premises and brought a proposal of establishing a so-called apolitical student’s council wherein the representatives would be chosen by the Vice Chancellor, who – quite ironically is appointed by the state itself.

KL: This has been coming down in several forms actually. The entire state machinery is attempting to curb our voices, be it individual or collective. It does not matter if you are a student, an artist or an activist ; either you keep your voices down or they will ensure everything on their part to silence you totally and completely. For how many years have you been facing this kind of treatment in educational institutions?

TB: Ever since we can imagine, perhaps. To be more specific, though – the intensity has been increasing highly in the last decade or so.

KL: I am not what one would decipher from the term “activist”. I am not an activist but I try to project the wrongdoings and mishaps and taboos of this society through my films. But filmmakers, too – have been facing similar issues lately. As a matter of fact, even a decade ago, you would not have to worry as much about censorship issues. While there remains a chaotic ambiance about pornography being open and visible to minors in the country and while the govt. still continues to be ignorant about the same, you have to worry a hell lot about portraying the economically and socially downtrodden in your films since a single use of cuss words or abusive language where it is necessary to portray realism would be censored by the board in lesser time than a blink of your eye.

Gauri was very vocal about all these issues. She voiced her opinion on everything beginning from the lower caste problem in India to the rising saffronisation of the general masses.

Kavitha Lankesh (Left) and Gauri Lankesh (Right) in their younger years

TB: There are the Ambedkarites who focus on the annihilation of the caste system from the country and there are activists like Jignesh Mehwani who emphasise on the gradual upliftment of the lower castes. What were Gauri’s perspectives on the same?

KL: As I had told you previously, I am not an activist. I do not know the tiniest details about these issues. There are a number of people who are working to bring her work in focus, and I can help you to reach them somehow, if need be.

TB: Was Gauri extremely vocal against the BJP and RSS?

KL: She was. As vocal about these issues an individual can be. She was concerned about the people here, she would try to expose all the wrongdoings that went against the interest of the commoners.

TB: Was it this spirit that cost her her life?

KL: Indeed. She was so vigorously bold and would work hard day and night for the weekly tabloid. And she was very picky about finding commercial sponsors. Mostly, the paper would run on the money she earned by selling books authored by herself and our father. She even used money from her insurances to make sure the workers in her office got paid well at the right time.
It also is quite tough to run a weekly tabloid in Kannada. But she was rigid about it, and very, very dedicated to the work she had taken up.

TB: Was there any difference between Gauri and her father?

KL: I could not spot any. She was very similar to him, extremely dedicated about work, dedicated about a writer’s duty to the people. She got herself another chair beside our father’s chair as a mark of respect to him.

TB: The BJP and a part of the mainstream media have been trying their best to put the entire blame of her murder on Naxalites. What would you say about that?

KL: Look, that is just not true. She was trying to bring some of the Naxalites back to mainstream life. She was trying to communicate with them, help them understand the context of modern day politics. It was not the Naxalites who took her life. Her murder was a part of the silencing propaganda taken up by radical nationalists and orthodox fundamentalists, who have been playing the two sides of the same coin in recent times in this country.

TB: How would you describe her political orientation?

KL: She was a leftist…but never of the extremist kind. She was a part of the larger movement, she would support a local BJP leader if he would have been working truly well for the betterment of the commoners in this state. She had had interactions with Jignesh Mehwani and Kanhaiya Kumar and was quite friendly with both. She was supportive of the JNU movement. Her entire team had been investigating the murder of scholar and professor M.M Kalburgi.

She was concerned about the murder of intellectuals by fundamentalists, just like all other progressive journalists in this country.

In fact, seven other left-leaning jounralists and scholars have been threatened in the week that followed after her murder. The far right in this country has left no other options open to put the blame on.

TB: How would she perceive the crisis in Kashmir or that in the north-eastern states?

KL: Coming back to this, you have to go through her work in order to find this out. The most important part is that her work is being translated in English so that more and more people can come up and learn about the cause behind and for her dedication.

TB: What drove her to take up the role of an activist?

KL: What I remember is the transition we saw in her when the 2002 Gujarat Riots were going on. She suddenly became very determined about taking up the necessary steps she could individually to stand against such incidents that caused nationwide bloodshed and trauma.

TB: Speaking of languages, what exactly is the issue in this state about Hindi being the national language?

KL: The common people in this state started the movement against Hindi being a national language since they had absolutely no relations with such an imposition previously! They have known Kannada to be their medium of expression ever since birth and just because the state wants to impose something on you does not mean that it has to be accepted readily.

Kavitha with her daughter Esha photographed a few years ago

TB: What was Gauri’s take on Lingayats?

KL: All of the Lankeshs’ are Lingayats but that does not necessarily signify that we are religious people. In fact, she would rather react quite rudely if you would determine her religion before listening to her say on it. She was an atheist, and so are the rest of us. We even had a group of family members and friends on a certain social media outlet where we would actively speak against orthodox Hindutwa and BJP and RSS but currently, we are too afraid to voice ourselves ever since the incident took place. It has been tough for all of us, and especially for Esha – she is still just in eighth grade.

TB: What was the motto of the Lankesh Patrike?

KL: The motto of the tabloid was to expose the govt.’s misdeeds. P.Lankesh and Gauri, both were anti-govt and anti-state activists. Both of them tried their level best to expose the scams and misdeeds of the authority against the interest of the people.

TB: Previously, there were organisations and forums like IPTA (Indian People’s Theatre Association) that worked collectively to handle these crises and voice themselves on these grounds. How do you individually attempt to voice yourself on these grounds?

KL: I am a filmmaker and I want my films to carry out the messages that I feel are morally correct. When I directed Deveeri in 1999, it was in favour of the caste issue and the lives of prostitutes in this country. That we are to gather together or not is indeed an important question given the extent of oppression that is coming down on us artists in the recent times.

TB: How do we carry on her legacy?

KL: There are so many people who are constantly working for retaining the meaning of freedom of expression of one’s own mind. They are being threatened by the state, by the current govt. regime, by the fundamentalists but none of that is stopping them from speaking their heart and mind out. That spirit is the only ray of hope that could save us in the long run now.

You must be to comment.

More from Titas Biswas

Similar Posts

By Sajad Rasool

By RAAZ DHEERAJ SHARMA✍️

By Accountability Initiative

Wondering what to write about?

Here are some topics to get you started

Share your details to download the report.









We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

Share your details to download the report.









We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

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.

Read more about the campaign here.

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.

Share your details to download the report.









We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

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.

Sign up for the Youth Ki Awaaz Prime Ministerial Brief below