If she were alive today, I am sure, Gauri would have had a set of dentures put in. She used to be so tense most times that when she slept she would grind her teeth, loudly and restlessly.
The dentist had given a plastic guard to protect her teeth from wear and tear. In deep sleep, she would spit these out to continue gnawing her teeth, relentlessly.
Gauri Lankesh, grinding her teeth at the state of affairs in India, is how I picture her, four years after her assassination. I am Kavitha Lankesh, the sister Gauri left behind to pick up the pieces. I am not her, but I think I know what Gauri would have said had she been alive to voice her concerns.
Gauri and a 'Ruthless' State
The last four years have been awful for Gauri’s dreams as the State has turned more ruthless and manipulative and society, majoritarian and supremacist. Hate and bigotry have seeped into the fabric of our society, affecting families and friends.
Had she been alive today, would Gauri’s mobile number have figured prominently, along with those of the other journalists who were targeted by Pegasus snoop? Like they did with anti-CAA protestors in Uttar Pradesh, would her photo and personal details been plastered on public walls, ready for hate-mongers’ target practice?
How would she have faced it all?
The Many Shades of Gauri Lankesh
The Gauri I knew was an epitome of contradictions. She was brave to face the toughest fights without flinching. Yet, she was scared to be alone. Though she liked her solitude, she revelled in the company of people.
The unjust and the uncouth always got her tougher side – choicest of slurs in Kannada and English. Otherwise, she was soft spoken.
She would berate those in the wrong without mercy, even though to some, she was always kind – ‘Neenu daari thappida maga’ (You are a child who has lost their way). “Come let’s discuss this over a cup of coffee,” she invited those who were lost.
Even as she argued and discussed with her 'friends' and 'foes' on social media, she told me to ignore online troublemakers.
Would Today’s India Have Irked Gauri?
Without knowing the complete person that Gauri was, Twitterdom celebrated her death on 5 September 2017. The ruling regime’s patronage of bigotry reached its zenith post Gauri’s death.
Why else would farmers of Mandsaur in Madhya Pradesh, who were protesting for better price for their produce, be killed in police firing orchestrated by the government in 2018? Why else would Pragya Thakur, who called Nathuram Godse a patriot, be elected to Lok Sabha in 2019? Wasn’t the BJP government, under Narendra Modi, elected back to power because the electorate got polarised over Pulwama terror attack and the ‘surgical strike’ that followed? Weren’t the real issues, like that of the farmers’ movement, relegated to the margins?
On 12 January 2018, an unprecedented press conference by four senior most judges of the Supreme Court, revealed the frustration and anguish that the Indian people and institutions, were feeling under Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s regime.
Gauri would have grown restless and committed herself to expose the regime then. Now, in 2021, nine months after the farmers’ protest began in India’s capital New Delhi, most of the mainstream media have forgotten about them. I imagine Gauri writing tirelessly about this protest. She would have expressed her solidarity with the farmers by going to the protest sites on her own. Every week, her newspaper Gauri Lankesh Patrika would have carried stories of the farmers’ movement.
Gauri would have been tormented about several issues. She would have raged on about ‘judicial appropriation’, ‘dismemberment of Kashmir’, Ayodhya judgement, ‘introduction of Citizenship Amendment Act and National Citizenship Register to destroy the idea of India’ and the ‘mismanagement of COVID-19 pandemic’.
Gauri would have lamented over the death of her friends.
She would have been affected by the death of her friend and activist, HS Doreswamy. She used to call him a ‘rockstar’. Dalit poet Siddalingaiah's death would have saddened her. Father Stan Swamy’s demise, after a pitiable existence in prison under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), would have deeply disturbed her. Gauri would also have been troubled over the continued incarceration of those whom she cared for. One of her ‘adopted sons’ Umar Khalid is still languishing in prison.
Yes, there are many things that could have upset and disturbed Gauri about the current state of affairs in our country.
Gauri Would've Led Protests, She Loved India
I am sure she would have gone onto the streets and sat on the footsteps of the Bengaluru Townhall, protesting for all that she believed in. I am reminded of her joking that her rear side was always scorched, an imprint of the many dharnas for which she had sat on those hot steps.
Despite her disgruntlement over the turmoil in the country, Gauri would have continued to love India.
She would have been overjoyed as Jignesh Mevani, the young Dalit leader, got elected as the MLA of Vadgam constituency, Gujarat. She would have celebrated when this ‘adopted son’ of hers set up an oxygen plant in his constituency dominated by Dalits, Adivasis and Minorities. At home, she would have found happiness in her niece, my daughter, and countless other children.
I can imagine Gauri laughing and being secretly proud of all the recognition that she has been getting posthumously.
But I shudder to think what she would have faced had she been alive.
In 2017, when Gauri was assassinated, India ranked 136 in the freedom of press index. After four years, the country was downgraded to 142nd position on the index. I used to fear for Gauri’s safety when she was alive. She had 80 police cases filed against her at the time of her death. How many more cases would have been slapped on her if she were alive now?
(Kavitha Lankesh is a film maker based in Bengaluru. She is the sister of murdered activist and journalist Gauri Lankesh. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)