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Twin tragedies: Death and Division

Of late, death dominates our headlines. Fatal lynchings, children suffocating in hospitals; and now, another talented scribe gunned down. In the wake of such horrific news, India remains irreparably divided with citizens too preoccupied assigning blame to unite long enough to condemn a murder unanimously.

Gauri Lankesh was a renowned critic of the Naxalite movement and Hindu right-wing groups. She was outspoken in the way all good journalists should be. On Tuesday, she was shot dead outside her Bangalore home. According to news reports, there is CCTV footage and witnesses have come forward. A 21-member Special Investigating Team was convened. Today, the cops announced Rs 10 Lakh award for any clues. In short, so far, the investigation has garnered no information.

Before the body was cold, columnist Swapan Dasgupta asked, “Tragic death of #GauriLankesh. Did politics lead to murder or murder lead to politics?” The words did what they were engineered to do: polarise.

 

 

BJP supporters spewed venom about anti-national journalists and theorized that Lankesh’s killing was a Maoist plot to defame the ruling party. A particularly heinous tweet said “this is not d last. A hit list be prepared & eliminate all those on d list.” The hit list went viral yesterday. It named many famous dissenters of the BJP rule. Another tweet compared Lankesh to a dog.

Simultaneously, liberals jumped to blame the RSS.  The resulting dialogue is shockingly similar for two sides that consider themselves to be of opposite mindsets.

“Connect the dots. Know the stand she took and who was against her. Understand the ideology whose forces want to target her,” Siddharth Varadarajan, the editor of The Wire, told Telegraph. In reply to Dasgupta, Caravan editor Hartosh Singh Bal asked: did swapan dasgupta lead to jagriti shukla or did jagriti shukla lead to swapan dasgupta?

Why bring another female journalist into it? Is misogyny a-ok as long it comes from a liberal heart? If the impulse of liberals has also become to throw mud at mud, aren’t we just blinding one another?

Varadarajan is correct. It’s a scribe’s job to unearth facts and put them in context. And, in a country that has witnessed 142 attacks on journalists in the last two years, a hit list of dissenting correspondents is a serious issue and police must look at it as a viable threat. But, does any side — right or left — have enough dots to connect yet?

Lankesh drew ire on many fronts — as all good journalists do. She had numerous defamation cases against her; she was openly critical of the BJP’s treatment of minorities, and also hated by upper-caste Indians for her staunch support of Dalit rights. She had publicly spoken of receiving death threats from Hindu nationalists and Naxalites. Several details surrounding her death have been incorrectly reported.

Gloating over someone’s death is sociopathic, and deserves to be condemned. But, couldn’t liberals have done so without jumping the gun on the murder investigation?

Some of it reeked of opportunism. “Anybody who speaks against the RSS/BJP is attacked & even killed,” said Congress party vice-president Rahul Gandhi. Advocate Prashant Bhushan reportedly said the same people who celebrated Gandhi’s death are celebrating Gauri Lankesh’s death.

At other times, the reporting could not be called objective, by any stretch of the imagination. Lankesh’s lawyer B.T. Venkatesh was quoted saying that the killing was a sinister and pre-planned act by Hindu terror units. It’s not clear if Venkatesh is part of the murder investigation, nor does he offer anything besides theories. Lankesh’s family has different opinions on the motive for her murder. At a press conference Lankesh’s brother said he believes Maoists were behind his sister’s death, while her sister expressed that Hindu right-wing outfits could be responsible. But it was her lawyer’s opinion that was splashed across the news as if it were fact.

Increasingly, Indians are displaying a tendency to accept third-hand knowledge without question or verification as long it fits a pre-decided upon narrative. Today, former VP JNU Students Union Shehla Rashid came under fire for kicking a Republic TV journalist out from a protest over Lankesh’s death.

 

The same people who cried RSS stepped up as champions of free press.

Only, these reactions were based on a video of Rashid shouting. That she asked a journalist to leave was storified by media sites, but no one thought to ask her what that journalist said to her that provoked such a heated response. A tweet, a desirable story, and third-hand knowledge was enough on which to base conclusions, and no effort was made to unearth facts.

Since Tuesday, much has been said about Lankesh’s murder and the country’s reactions to the news. NDTV spent a good portion of an hour discussing the social media hatred. Arnab bellowed across the Republic that RG must be imbibing a magical drink because he blamed BJP/RSS, though all the while it was clear that the anchor himself favoured the theory that Maoists assassinated Lankesh. Arnab demanded apologies from his panelists, while they demanded one from the PM. There have been heated discussions about the different kinds of media. “There is national media and anti-national media,” I heard on the Republic yesterday.

The thing we have not discussed enough is the only real tragedy: a woman was killed. Death is not a spin-factor, or a TRP grabber, or an engine to further political agendas. A murder should not be a polarising issue; it is a crime. Surely we can come together to condemn a heinous act, regardless of our political differences. If we cannot, how irreparably damaged and divided of a country are we?

 

Note: Cover Photo credit:  Gauri Lankesh’s twitter account

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