Book for a book, not bullets

Book for a book, not bullets

The Lesson from Gauri’s Murder

Members from Aam Admi Party staged a candle light Protest condemning the shoot-out on journalist & activist Gauri Lankesh at SVP Circle in Kalaburgi on Wednesday. - Photo/ Prashanth HG

In a flash, in a moment of senseless madness, a life was snuffed out three years ago this month on September 5. A luminous mind extinguished. A lithe, vibrant, sylph-like woman cut down by a hail of bullets by assailants with links to ‘Hindu right-wing’ groups who are now in jail but yet to face trial. Gauri Lankesh was irrepressible and irreverent. Fired with a crusading zeal, she challenged and confronted right-wing bigots and zealots, often fighting for the poor and the marginalised. She took up cudgels on behalf of Naxals and she lionised left-leaning student leaders like Kanhaiya Kumar. She was not a card-carrying communist, but a fire-breathing socialist, a rationalist and journalist-activist. That was her public persona. In private, she was caring, humane and loving.  

Initially, it appeared the attack was carried out by unknown contract killers. With public pressure mounting, Karnataka police finally succeeded in cracking the case, arresting many individuals radicalised by fringe Hindu outfits, who are alleged to have murdered Gauri. The police investigation connected the dots to a common link to the murders of Gauri and other well-known academics and rationalists who were gunned down earlier -- Vice Chancellor of Gulbarga University in Karnataka's M M Kalburgi, and Narendra Dabholkar and Govind Pansare in Maharashtra.

The investigations ultimately led through intricate back alleys and a convoluted network of shadow cells to the apex of a right-wing Hindutva organisation that was silencing mainly left-leaning intellectuals and rationalists who were Hindus. Girish Karnad and U R Ananthamurthy were also on their ‘hit list’ of people who were fighting against many kinds of fundamentalism and superstition and injustice against Dalits. A question is often asked by Hindu fundamentalists (an oxymoron, as they are not true Hindus), “Why do leftists attack only Hindus? Do they dare to attack believers of Islam or other religions?”

But does that give anyone the right to kill those of their own religion or of other faiths who question the many ills, like untouchability, that plague Hindu society?  

Bertrand Russell said, “I would never die for my beliefs, because I could be wrong.” By the same token, you cannot kill someone for their beliefs, because you could be mistaken. By the same logic, it follows that you could be murdered for your beliefs, too. If ‘pseudo-secularists’ can be killed, then ‘pseudo-Hindutva’ proponents can also be slain. Life is not possible with such a twisted dialectic. If we all aspire to live in a democratic, egalitarian and free society, we must resolve our differences through dialogue. 

Gauri Lankesh held extreme views. True. Her language was not always sober. It was often aggressive, provocative even, and at times needlessly strident while exposing others. It could have been tempered, more civil and sensitive. So is the language of Muslim and Hindu hardliners and many leaders on either side of the social and political divide. Does that give anyone a licence to kill them as their views are abhorrent?

Gauri supported the demands of Lingayats to declare their sect as a separate religion and that raised the hackles of many Hindu right-wing leaders and outfits. Hinduism has faced such challenges before. It has always had the strength and resilience to absorb and digest the heretics, rebels, agnostics and atheists and invading faiths like a boa constrictor, as Octavio Paz said, and accommodate them in its fold and celebrate the diversity with its rich and varied polytheism. 

Gauri was seen as being prejudiced against the right-wing while turning a blind eye to the atrocities and violence perpetrated by the leftists, or the killings of RSS workers in Kerala by the left-led alliance, or the murder of innocents by Naxals. But none of that can justify the taking of her life. That deed, done in the name of protecting Hinduism, will be a blot on the love, tolerance and non-violence that Hinduism stands for.

The leaders of the Hindu community, from across its numerous religious orders and outfits, must come out and strongly condemn any violence or killing and speak out against the poison of intolerance. They must courageously speak up against Khap panchayats and cow vigilantes. Similarly, the Muslim leadership – both the clerics and the community’s intellectuals and political leaders across the spectrum -- should come forth and denounce the killings by Islamic terror outfits. They must speak up against their religious laws that are incompatible with a modern, democratic society. A few on both sides have done so, but many have been silent or equivocal. They have to take a clear stand, so that no one is in the slightest doubt whether they are on the side of a humane, pluralistic society that is open and free or they wish to stand alongside bigots and fanatics who are ready to kill those who have a different worldview. Silence is not an option.

Albert Camus, an unbeliever himself, on being invited to address Christians of the Dominican Monastery in 1948, spoke passionately: “The grouping we need is a grouping of men resolved to speak out clearly and to pay up personally...what I feel like telling you today is that the world needs real dialogue, that falsehood is just as much the opposite of dialogue as silence, and that the only possible dialogue is the kind between people who remain what they are and speak their minds. When a Spanish bishop blesses political executions, he ceases to be a bishop or a Christian or even a man; he is a dog just like one who, backed by an ideology, orders that execution without doing the dirty work himself...In that case, Christians will live and Christianity will die.” That warning applies to all us of the various religions today.

It is well to remember what former prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee said: “Kitaab ka jawaab kitaab se hota hai.” A book (argument) must be answered by books (arguments), not bullets.

(The writer is a soldier, farmer and entrepreneur)