By Walter Ferndes
I was not yet nine but I distinctly remember the day when for the first time I witnessed people celebrating the murder of a person. In Mangalore my home town, on 31st January 1948 members of the RSS and Hindu Mahasabha distributed sweets to celebrate the assassition of Mahatma Gandhi the previous day. There have been many more such incidents during the last seven decades. The latest is the celebration of the murder of the jourlist and human rights activist Gauri Lankesh by some political commentators, jourlists and self-styled tiolists. The main comment was that she got the death she deserved, a dog’s death.
The method is similar in most cases. The so called tiolists begin by demonising the person they hate. Whether they know it or not, most of those they demonise are not just persons. They represent an idea or a vision and that is a threat to them. Such ‘tiolists’ need to demonise that person’s thinking. The Mahatma, for example, represented the idea of secular India in which all religious beliefs would be respected as equal. That was a threat to those who wanted a Hindu Rashtra with no rights conferred on Muslims, Christians and other minorities. A country that belonged to all the religious communities was a threat to such ‘tiolists.’ It meant that the person who propagated that thought had to be got rid of. One of them did it and the rest celebrated his murder.
There have been other such incidents after him. They include some who have not necessarily suffered a violent death. For example, while in college in 1956 I saw some of my companions celebrating the death of Dr B. R. Ambedkar because his idea of caste equality was a threat to their high caste status. One can also mention Parag Das in Assam whose assassition was condemned in public and celebrated by those to whom the idea of human rights was a red rag. In Chhattisgarh Dr Biyak Sen was called a xalite sympathizer and was condemned on charges of sedition on flimsy grounds. People who proclaimed that he was a xal sympathizer rejoiced when the political judgment was delivered against him. His only fault was that he made health care accessible to mine workers and tribals, fought against their exploitation and upheld their right to equal access to education and health care.
Gauri Lankesh belonged to that long line of persons who became an idea. She inherited that idea from her father who stood for an egalitarian society and inclusive development. While her brother took charge of Lankesh Patrike which her father founded, for the last ten years she ran her own tabloid Gauri Lankesh Patrike because she had gone far beyond the idea that her father was. She had inherited it and enriched it further. Like her father she stood for justice for all but her tabloid was much more vocal on secularism, the rights of Dalits, the downtrodden and women. Common to the father and daughter was the firebrand ture of their writings. But she was a bigger fighter and was much more vocal in her criticism of right wing and caste-based politics. Unlike her father, she also had access to social media and she used Facebook and twitter effectively to express her views on caste, gender and secularism. She also went beyond her locality to support other people who were growing in an idea of their own. For example, she invited Kanhaiya Kumar to Bangalore and did not hesitate to call him her son.
Those who dislike the idea that she was, accuse her of basking in her father’s glory. One does not have to repeat that she certainly took off where her father had left but went far ahead of him. For example, her enemies accuse her of being a supporter and sympathizer of xalism which she was not. In reality she understood the issues for which the xalites were fighting, so she was able to contact them and try to persuade them to abandon violence, join the mainstream and use non-violent means such as organising the poor and exploited to fight for justice. Her overall thinking was anti-establishment based but she knew how to be on the side of the poor but at the same time help them to move away from violence. That is one more area where she went beyond her father’s idea. That idea of justice and of secular tiolism was a threat to those whose power depended on the exploitation of the poor and on majoritarian tiolism. So she had to be elimited.
With her martyrdom she has joined a host of others like Shankar Guho Niyogi, Kalburgi and Pansare who had been martyred before her because they were an idea that threatened the powerful. More persons who question the powerful are being threatened even today. People in power will once again go through the usual ritual of making a statement expressing shock and conducting unending inquiries till another event overtakes them. But such people who are ideas of a different society cannot be forgotten. This is the time for all people to realise that individuals may die or may be assassited but the idea that they are lives after them.
That has to continue in the Northeast too. Much of it has been declared a disturbed area and a region of conflict. The idea of peace with justice to all has to be strengthened in this region too. The reasons for which many fight has to be understood and measures have to be taken to redress people’s grievances and injustice that leads to the conflicts. Those in power can only think of unjust measures like AFSPA and declare it a disturbed area in order keep the conflict alive. But people who believe in the idea of Gauri Lankesh need to continue efforts to bring about confidence building measures such as repeal of AFSPA. Such measures are required because like individuals a whole people too can be demonized by calling them terrorists in a disturbed area as is being done in this region. People who work for peace based on a just society have to continue the idea of persons like Gauri Lankesh who have died. Their cause will not die.
(Dr Ferndes is a Senior Fellow, North Eastern Social Research Centre, Guwahati)