I had never worked with Gauri Lankesh nor bumped into her ever. I have only known of her. Though I haven’t read her much, I am sure I wouldn’t agree with her on many issues. But I feel the bullets pumped into her frail body on Tuesday evening have got lodged into this nation’s soul. Not because Gauri is an icon of free speech or a great champion of objective journalism (now we know that she was actively seeking advertisement for her publication from the friendly Congress government in her home state), but because she seems to be a victim of intolerance. We still don’t know who killed her, but if she is a victim of hatred, of people who cannot brook disagreement, then she indeed becomes a martyr, a symbol of free speech that is getting choked.
Senior union minister Nitin Gadkari has slammed the Opposition saying that the BJP should not be dragged into the case and that the party has nothing to do with the incident. Sure, but why are the supporters of the BJP celebrating? The Times of India says four Twitter handles followed by the prime minister have tweeted “coarse and abusive” messages suggesting that Gauri deserved her fate. Any celebration of death, that too a violent, cowardly murder of an unarmed woman, is a symptom of a grave disease. Our body politic seems to be sick with hatred.
If the killers really are fringe Hindutva elements, then they need to be asked: “Were Gauri’s words so powerful that you had to exhibit your machismo by shooting her down? Is this the expression of the Savarkarite manhood?” As a practising, temple-going Hindu, I insist that this sort of cowardice does not fit into any sort of cultural or political expression of Hindu values. We are an argumentative nation of debaters brought up on stories of religious conversion through discussion. From Shankara’s victory over Mandana Mishra in debate to Narayana Guru’s revolutionary consecration of the Ezhava Shiva, Hinduism as imagined by its followers like me is an expression of cultural confidence and conviction, and hence, it ought to be tolerant and inclusive.
But now the practitioners of hate exhibit an extreme lack of confidence in this nation. They seem to fear that Hinduism is so fragile that it will crumble like a flaky cookie if a Kalburgi or a Gauri challenges certain moth-eaten practices or seeks a separate religious identity for Lingayats. Hinduism is an argument (Sanskrit for religion is matam or opinion) that survived invaders and colonisers, but it will not survive these bigots because their attempt is to turn it into a Semitic variant, with all the inherent intolerance of the religions of the desert.
If Gauri’s is a political murder, then what is the murderer’s politics? It can only be a sort of jehad or crusade or an inquisition. The objective of this Hindutva jehad is not debate, but to silence all dissent. Well, as a profession, regardless of our politics and our biases, we have responded resoundingly that we will not be silenced. If the end of the discourse is murder, so be it. But we will continue to argue. Call out the corrupt among us, but don’t try to silence us. After all, we are your social auditors, that boy in the crowd, and without us there won’t be anyone to tell you when the emperor is naked.
If the killing turns out to be over something personal, the outrage should still be read as a commentary of the times.