Like most journalists, her only bias was truth and non-violence

BY ANUP KUMAR| IN Media Freedom | 09/09/2017
When the news of her murder came through my news feed, I wondered, will assassination of Gauri Lankesh be different? Will the killers be caught and punished this time?
ANUP KUMAR cautions against the protests getting politicised
Protests have erupted across the country.


I did not know Gauri Lankesh, but after reading Chidanand Rajghatta poignant eulogy, I felt personally devastated on losing such a caring human being. This journalist daughter of a Gandhian academic was killed in a diabolical manner for what? For doing her job as a journalist?  

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, Gauri Lankesh is the 41st journalist, since 1992, to be killed in India. The total number does not include 27 other journalists who were also murdered, but motives of their killers is yet to be confirmed. The CPJ monitors press freedoms and threat to journalists around the world. 

Going through the CPJ’s database it is astounding to see that a significant majority of the journalists killed in India worked for regional news media. In many of the cases the killers are yet to be apprehended or convicted.

When the news of her murder came through my news feed, I wondered, will assassination of Gauri Lankesh be different? Will this time the killers be caught and punished? 

In 2016, India was ranked 13th on the infamous list of countries where journalists could be killed for doing their job. In South Asia, India is one of the most dangerous places for journalists along with Afghanistan (7), Pakistan (8), and Bangladesh (11). All of us who are proud of India’s constitutional democracy must take a pause and think hard. Are we any different from our neighbors?   

Hamid Mir, a Pakistani journalist and a courageous survivor of attempted assassination, reacting to the killing suggested that it has not only tarnished Indian democracy, but has put a question mark on Indian journalism. Mir did not hold back and wrote: “There is one big difference. I can’t claim that democracy and media is very strong in Pakistan but Gauri Lankesh lived and worked and was a citizen of the biggest democracy of the world. So what happened? How did “they” dare target her? Don’t “they” care what Gauri’s colleagues and friends in the world’s largest democracy will say? Aren’t “they” worried that “they” will be exposed? And what about the collective democratic conscience and pride of the Indian media? How do they deal with this direct challenge to their credibility?”

After the assassination journalists and activists came out in large numbers to protest, express outrage and demand justice. From the videos circulating in the media it appears that the journalists’ protests got politicized. Authoritarian governments thrive on divided media, and it seemed that the journalist fraternity played along.

It became less about remembering the courage of Gauri Lankesh and demanding justice for her, and more about Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s role in emboldening Hindu extremists and social media trolls. Not that latter should be of less concern; but then the role of the present government in fostering a vicious climate is a continuing issue. Why allow a heartfelt outrage to be diluted by our politics? 

Gauri Lankesh was courageously speaking against violence in politics. Violence that is perpetrated by Hindu extremist groups and Maoist alike. She was investigating corruption in Karnataka government as well. Like most journalists, her only bias was truth and non-violence. 

 The fact that the police had not yet revealed who they suspected to be killers made the supporters of the prime minister see this, yet again, as evidence of anti-Modism among a section of the media. Although, it is not farfetched at all to think that some Hindu extremist group has assassinated her to send a chilling message to other journalists. Gauri Lankesh was a scathing critic of the divisive and hateful politics of Hindutva.

Immediately after the news broke, some on social media not only celebrated her murder, but issued threats to other women journalists, as well, who are highly vocal in their criticism of Hindu extremists. The posts suggest that there is no fear of law for those who spew hate on social media because they count themselves as supporters of the prime minister. The fact that the prime minister’s Twitter handle follows of some of the people spewing hate should be especially concerning to the government.  

Yet, I thought killing of Gauri Lankesh will bring the entire fraternity together demanding justice. As a former working journalist, I recall this is how it used to be in the old days. Governments and political parties were wary of targeting journalists. The ethos of the press clubs was you touch one, you touch all.  

My first experience of joining a protest rally was in 1988. I was still in college at the time. The liquor mafia in Uttarakhand had kidnapped, tortured, and killed Umesh Dobhal, correspondent for Amar Ujala in Pauri Garhwal. Dhobal was exposing the corrupt nexus between politicians and liquor and land mafia in Uttarakahnd. The journalist community in Uttarakhand formed apolitical Patrakaar Sangharsh Samiti and kept the pressure on the government to apprehend the killers.   

The intense pressure from journalists forced the government to order a CBI investigation. Sadly, the case brought against the accused faltered it became a matter of political contestation among the political parties. The people who had allegedly conspired to kill Dobhal were acquitted in 1994. The acquittal of Dobhal’s killer played a small role in precipitating the mass mobilization in the summer of 1994 that eventually culminated with creation of Uttarakhand. 

Even when there may be good reasons to point towards certain groups, I think politicization only falters investigation. For the police to carry out a thorough investigation and go in whatever directions the evidence leads them, the news media must resist the motivation to build a narrative, however compelling it may be, as it makes the job investigation difficult. Using a murder for purposes of political contestation weakens investigation and later prosecution.

Media narrative and political contestation over a crime has a negative effect on investigation of a case as the police feel pressured by the political position taken by any government in power. 

So, media must keep up the pressure on the government and the police to find the killers and bring them to justice without seeming so certain about the political motivation of those behind the assassination. Politicization only serves the interest of the killers who mostly likely use it to rationalize a dastardly murder of a journalist and present it as a legitimate extension of partisan politics.  


 Anup Kumar teaches in the School of Communication, Cleveland State University. 


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