Gauri Lankesh was murdered by three gunmen outside her residence in Bengaluru on September 5, 2017, after she had returned home from work. She was the editor of the Kannada weekly ‘Lankesh Patrike’.
Over a year after the eminent journalist’s death, Titas Biswas interviewed Gauri Lankesh’s sister Kavitha Lankesh who talks about life after her sister’s death, the looming threat of Hindu fundamentalism, and the Prime Minister’s stoic silence over the issue.
Titas Biswas (TB): What do you think of Chidanand Rajghatta’s ‘Illiberal India’?
Kavitha Lankesh (KL): He sent me the draft when he was writing it, to check if it required any corrections, or if there were any factual errors or anything. It’s an immensely readable book, with the journey – their political journey interwoven very well. But I personally feel like some things might have been left out because there were personal lives involved, otherwise it is a very good book.
TB: The last one of the 17 men was arrested on September 9. With sources now confirming that the murder was the work of Hindu fundamentalists, what do you have to say about that?
KL: Well, we always suspected that was the one. We didn’t think anybody else had such an extent of enmity that would otherwise have led to murder. We knew the people who were trolling her, who were against her, but we couldn’t make a statement until the investigations confirmed it. I was in touch with the officers who were investigating the case the entire time, I kept visiting them since the first week when Gauri was murdered – in order to know what kind of investigations were going on. Of course, they investigated personal motives, if there were any in order to filter people out and they were doing the right things, going in the right direction.
It was not shocking that we knew who the murderers were, it is shocking to realise the stage that Hindu fundamentalism has reached today in our country. How are they different from the Taliban or ISIS? They’re getting trained with how to operate various kinds of ammunition – gun shooting being only a part of it. So, what kind of Hinduism is this is what we would question, what I would like to question. This is not what we ever thought would materialise. No religion is supposed to kill. Now, of course, some of them have crossed their limits over time…because they’re very traditional…
TB: The majoritarian element in this country given the numbers…
KL: What is even more amusing is the way society is apparently choosing to react about it. The one who had pulled the trigger, Parshuram – when he was caught, and the news was in the media for the first time, there were people who were openly supporting him! They were showering him with appreciation, quoting that the murder had been the right thing to do in order to save Hinduism. What kind of Hindus are these people?
TB: And what about the Prime Minister? Has he made a public statement, as of yet?
KL: Nothing, nothing as of yet. He doesn’t utter a word in press conferences, doesn’t mind avoiding them (questions) in case he finds it a necessity. He doesn’t make a single proper statement about the entire issue, all in all. His silence in itself is an answer to several questions. It exposes the malignant nature of the media. He doesn’t answer a single question, there are no people to question and it is not just about my sister. Maybe she is not great enough or good enough to be, you know…whereas the French government is honoring her.
TB: It isn’t limited to national boundaries anymore. It almost is sort of a global trend, isn’t it? Last week, a Bulgarian journalist (Viktoria Marinova) was raped and murdered. Earlier this year, a car bomb was planted on Maltese journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, an active contributor to the investigation of the Panama papers scandal.
KL: Her name too was inscribed on the pillar. Daphne’s sister and son were present there. But I am not saying the Prime Minister has to be prompt enough about Gauri’s murder. My sister doesn’t necessarily have to be important enough to him. But as a Prime Minister of this country, why doesn’t he ever care enough to answer anything important, anything that counts to the press? Shiv Sena MP Sanjay Raut had called the entire response of the jurisprudence pretty much a hoax…how would you revert back to that? What was this guy called, yes…Sree Ram Sene Chief Pramod Muthalik denied acknowledging the existence of Gauri! He simply stated he didn’t know anyone by this name. Then, he went on to make some very stupid statements about Parshuram.
Actually, he isn’t even supposed to make a statement. He stays in prison half the time and when he’s out, the press hovers around him to get their TRPs shot up in an instant. He claimed that the cops paid him Rs.25 lakhs in order to make him say what he had been saying and then Pramod Muthalik comes back and calls the entire thing a hoax. Even Sanatan Samste, if you observe keenly, they’ve always preferred calling the entire incident a hoax – makes them a big favour, indeed. They’re on the board, they’ve been in touch with the big leaders, they’ve been involved in this whole thing and now their lawyers are defending them of murder This is what the media would not write about.
TB: Last year, when we got this interview done, you had asked us not to utter the ‘Sanatan Samste’ phrase very much. By this time, they’ve already been mentioned in a prominent news daily. Do you know who is actually funding them? Where does this organization run from? Who are providing the incentives?
KL: These days, they’ve got nothing to do with RSS, and RSS has got to do nothing with them.
TB: Why is the Shiv Sena defending their actions, in that case?
KL: You see, they’re all a part of the conglomerate. They’re all fringe elements of the same group. None of them are going to come forward and claim that they’re funding directly, and that might not even be the case, to be honest. They’re putting this venom into people all around, re-creating “the Hindu dream”. They’re tight-lipped about anything concerned with women’s rights, with rape cases taking place, about freedom of the press – they’re talking of building Ayodhya. This is the medium of their funding. The BJP’s doing the same thing, Mohan Bhagwat’s doing the same thing. They’re talking about building a new Hindu Rashtra. Sanatan Samste is a part of this philosophy. They’re talking about being exclusive in contrast to Hinduism being an inclusive religion for a very long time.
TB: Where is Sanatan Samste geographically functioning from?
KL: They’re based in Goa. There’s a 200 man committee here and they’re growing stronger in both Maharashtra and Karnataka. It’s not local anymore, they’re probably functioning all over the nation. You can find it out on the Internet that they have a huge ashram in Ponda. They’re training them with several kinds of ammunition, they’re teaching them hypnotism – a lot of things are happening.
TB: But if they are practicing it along with ammunition training and stuff like that, there must be huge funding behind the entire phenomenon taking place.
KL: Even the BJP is in it. A month before Dabholkar had been murdered, they had published a photograph of him in the Sanatan magazine with a mark on his head. They took it down two weeks later. Now, they have figured out a guy making eighty bombs in their terrain – you must have read about it.
TB: No, but I definitely did read about the claims regarding Ericksonian hypnosis being practiced.
KL: And the people in the media, including lawyers, were busy saying the number of bombs were twenty and not eighty. These people should be questioned on exactly how the intensity of statistical enumeration has to do with the notion of crime in the modern world! Of course it does, on the other hand. In a non-linear manner, to be specific. Had there been a Muslim boy owning a gun, one gun, he would have been jailed for fifteen years. They were even planning to conduct a sort of firing during the Muslim festivals so that the blame could have been laid on their shoulders. Now tell me, what kind of Hindus are these people?
TB: Ow, that’s not surprisingly new. We’ve seen things happen during the Babri Masjid controversy.
KL: Same thing, yes. On the Dabholkar case, they were pretty clear. On the Pansare or Kalburgi case, it was pretty clear who were behind the murders.
TB: So, all of these murders were conducted, planned and performed by them?
KL: Yes. Yes, they were.
TB: What is Sanatan Samste? The militant wing of the entire orthodox Hindu conglomerate or something?
KL: Yes, and they are training other factions to be a tad bit more on the militant side to remain “effective”. Like in Dervan, they got two or three people there and subsequently they gathered around forty to fifty people – all of them fairly young. That is how they are multiplying. You see, even Parshuram belongs from a family that is not too well off, is not very well educated and when he was caught, he had been openly saying that he needed to commit the murder in order to protect Hinduism, because Gauri, according to him, was “anti-Hindu”. Later, he was pressured to embrace a Pakistani flag. You see, why would a brainwashed youngster do something as sinister all of a sudden? The entire game is being played to ensure violence and hatred continue to survive as an outcome.
TB: Why is this Hindu dream being so widely accepted among youngsters, millennials specifically?
KL: It wasn’t like that. These people are making things work that way. They’re polarizing everything.
TB: So, it’s happening in Bangalore as well?
KL: Everywhere. It’s happening everywhere. And the very people who are inciting it would probably send their children to study abroad – maybe to the Gulf countries or the United States or elsewhere. We ask them the same question and they’re left devoid of answers – What if their children are treated the same way once they end up abroad? What if the real differences the world demarcates between a white man and a black man starts exposing itself? They’re reaching out for an extremely secluded version of freedom, but what kind of hypocrisy is this, in the end?
TB: Going by the number of honour killings, crimes committed against women, against Muslims, other individuals belonging to minority communities or Dalits, as a matter of fact – the numbers have risen substantially in the last few years. It is as if they’re increasing in geometric progression with every coming year.
KL: It is extremely disturbing. And people do not seem to care, nobody seems to care. How come nobody is bothered? The ministers have to say nothing about these incidents in contrast to saying loads of nasty things about who will be permitted to enter a temple and who wouldn’t be. And isn’t it sinister that the ones who defy to accept these are being marked villains. Thankfully, there is a certain majority of people who are supporting Gauri’s work. They’re showing solidarity with her voice.
TB: What can we possibly presume regarding the coming five to ten years? Do these series of events mark the rise of a certain fascist tendency?
KL: I hope it’s not but it does look like it is. A couple of months ago, five noted activists were arrested without a proper statement. If that can happen in this country, the near future isn’t possibly too bright. Girish Karnad had come to attend one of these events regarding Gauri wearing #MeTooUrbanNaxal. That is the case with me, as well. If that be the case, then my father would have been the first to be arrested thirty years ago. Because journalism is supposed to be anti-government in nature. It is not supposed to be like the government hands out all of this information to you and you take them down. But ninety percent of the media is sold out to the government now.
TB: So, even if they’re portraying Sanatan Samste, it’s not deep enough – they’re basically name dropping, is it that?
KL: It is like an open secret now, a lot of people who are in the media know about it but wouldn’t talk about it. They are scared, especially about what happened in Gauri’s case. At least the criminals were caught and punished. But a part of the middle class is still quite baffled by the idea of going counter-current, of not being pro-Hindu.
TB: It almost is a brand by now – the Hindu brand.
KL: But this wasn’t the case when we were kids. They never said, even in the school textbooks that “Hinduism” was a religion. They said it was a way to live. This generation has been conditioned to believe it is a counter-religion religion or something. They’re trying to create a box known as the Hindu way of life, and are marking themselves radicals under the umbrella. This has happened gradually and has been getting worse in the present times, will be worsening in the next few years at the very least. And when somebody is in trouble, if a Dalit man is being beaten down to death, if somebody is being burnt alive, people shoot the incident instead of lending a helping hand!
TB: Everybody knows the country has perhaps turned into “Lynchistan” by now.
KL: Yes, nobody is bothered when somebody is getting lynched, nobody is bothered when a person is drowning. They will shoot the incident rather than taking an active part in it. It is humanity that is sinking, being erased away actually. Even the communal violence at the time the partition happened was better than this. People at least knew that they had an inherent urge to live in harmony, even if the situation demanded otherwise.