The moon dangles low in the evening sky, dimly illuminating the streets of Bangalore as a certain lady is seen making her way through the winding path. A warm September breeze rattles the windowpanes of the surrounding buildings that loom out of the semi-darkness and ruffles her sleek silver hair as she halts at the threshold of her home. She adjusts her thick-framed glasses and fumbles for her keys, thumbing through her handbag.Wonder where those—
Out of the shadows, a figure emerges next to her home. Her eyes dart up and attempt to make sense of this newcomer, but time has run out. Two more figures step out behind her—she doesn’t turn, but she can feel their presence. Her eyes press themselves shut.
A gunshot echoes into the Bangalore evening air. Then another. She barely has time to experience the searing pain in her neck before her legs crumple and the ground rushes up to meet her. She wonders what is happening—or tries to—before a sea of blackness and oblivion engulfs her.
The attackers scramble out of the darkness and onto the streets. The sound of a Honda motorcycle engine revving follows the gunshots, and the wheels take them away and out of sight.
And as Gauri Lankesh lay on verge of death at the verge of her home, streams of her crimson blood snaking its way across the pebbled pavement, things changed for India. As the night swept in, so did the dark tendrils of intolerance and bloodlust. Gauri Lankesh was not the only icon that died that night—the concept of freedom and democracy inched closer to its demise as well.
Guari Lankesh can be described as a warrior. She waged war with her words, with her campaigning, with her writing. She waged war against the tides of intolerance and extremism on multiple sides. She was a soldier for progress and a new age of India, and she was killed in battle.
Lankesh was the editor of “Gauri Lankesh Patrike”, a weekly magazine throwing shade on a wide range of social issues and dilemmas, including hyper-nationalism, extremism, inequality, and more. As expected, her popularity was analogous to her notoriety, as she received hate mail and death threats alongside praise and acclaim. Her targets were often Hindu extremism and oppression of religious/racial minorities. She did not shy away from condemning and criticizing the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), a prominent ruling party in India. Her voice of steel extended to discussing hate crimes, gang violence, and lynching conducted with the extremist sentiment.
For this, she was constantly and consistently smeared and came under a hailstone of vicious attacks—for utilizing her right to free speech to criticize things she wasn’t supposed to criticize. “As a citizen of India, I oppose the BJP’s fascist and communal politics. I oppose its misinterpretation of ‘Hindu Dharma’ ideals. I oppose the caste system of the ‘Hindu Dharma’, which is unfair, unjust and gender-biased. My Constitution teaches me to be a secular citizen, not communal. It is my right to fight against these communal elements,” she famously said.
Her defining fight has been the one against India’s fascination with superstition and irrational social structures. She battled against the toxic fruits of religious intolerance and supremacy. Her writing shredded apart the arguments made to support the Hindu caste system, which categorized people into social ranks and doomed equality.
Lankesh had amassed a reputation for being feisty, sweet, and undaunted. Her youth consisted of creativity, pouring over books and literature, and a knack for critical thinking. Her former spouse Chidanand Rajghatta colorfully describes the days of youth they spent together, offering an illustrious account of how they listened to Bob Dylan and the Beatles, watched Western and local films, discussed issues entangled in philosophy and social science, and sat under the night sky, admiring the sea of stars. Lankesh’s respect for those around her, regardless of their disagreement on various issues, led her to promise to never be hurtful towards other people despite having different ideologies.
Lankesh’s death can be seen as symbolical. It is representative of the rapid and painful demise of democratic freedom in multiple nations in Southeast Asia. Bangladesh has been struck by a series of murders of critics of religion, government, extremism, and more—machete-wielding fundamentalists have taken to the streets to bloodily silence those who dare to speak out. The People’s Republic of India, often called the “world’s largest democracy”, is on the brink of losing its right to that title—militarized fundamentalism is on the rise, and Lankesh’s blood was spilled in the hopes of making that clear.
In this new age of dawning extremism, dissenting voices will not be heard, or even tolerated. They will be silence bloodily and quickly. Critics will not be rewarded with discussions and responses, but rather with bullets and blades. Inequality is a must—people from different religions and belief systems cannot be on the same footing. No, religious supremacy is necessary to enforce this police state of fundamentalism.
People like Gauri Lankesh—those who dare to speak, dare to dream, dare to write, dare to care, dare to fight, dare to stand up—cannot be tolerated in a growing fundamentalist atmosphere. They have to be snuffed out and silenced under the thumb of the militants. Their ink cannot flow, and their fingers cannot type. A roll of duct tape must be tightly bound around their jaw to stifle their dissenting voices.
Gauri Lankesh was a dreamer and a writer and a thinker. The spillage of her blood remains a testament to what happens to dreamers, writers, and thinkers in the presence of irrationalists and fundamentalists. As Gauri Lankesh leaves this world and leaves us, let us not let the same fate befall the values she fought for—freedom, humanity, and enlightenment.