Dissent has had a long and hoary history within India and outside. By definition, dissenters struggle against those in power and raise their voices in protest, while rallying others to do the same, thereby inspiring still others in eras yet to unfold. The great 12th century dissenter of Karnataka, Basava, was the main inspiration for the feisty, principled journalist, Gauri Lankesh, who was gunned down by a Hindu Right Wing group on September 5, 2017.
To call every dissenter a ‘terrorist’ or an ‘extremist—as an autocratic state is wont to do–may miss the mark altogether, for many dissenters, like Gauri herself, are firmly on the side of democratic values like liberty and equality. A dissenter like Gauri was also a defender of the nation’s constitutional principles.
Somewhat belying my expectations, this book provides an engaging and warm tribute to an ex-wife by veteran journalist Chidanand Rajghatta. Despite the fact that their marriage barely lasted five years, and despite the remarriage of the author to an American, Mary, Rajghatta and Gauri managed to drum up enough goodwill between the two of them to last through Gauri’s lifetime at least. In fact, Gauri was even allotted the role of godmother to Rajghatta’s two children with Mary—a role that she played with gusto.
Apart from Basava, a major influence in Gauri’s life was her absent-minded and largely absent father, P Lankesh, named after the demon-king, Ravana, in the Hindu epic, Ramayana. Yet, as we know, and as Rajghatta reminds us, there are many tellings of the Ramayana, and many versions of Ravana, from demon to noble demi-god. Lankesh was something of a demi-god to his elder daughter, Gauri, who took up the mantle of running her deceased father’s Kannada newspaper, Lankesh Patrike in 2000. Lankesh managed to die in the same Pharaonic manner as he lived, thanks to the efforts of his daughters, Gauri and Kavitha, to have him interred with his beloved whiskey and cigarettes—but alas, not with his coterie of friends and admirers!
As the new editor of Lankesh Patrike, we see Gauri’s transition over the years—through Rajghatta’s eyes—from a universal, anglicized intellectual to a more rooted and local Kannada chronicler, and from adopting a fashionable stance of urban ‘castelessness’ to becoming an argumentative spokesperson (along with MM Kalburgi, who was assassinated in 2015) for reformist and egalitarian Lingayat values, as against the older, Brahminical Virasaiva casteism. To adopt a cliché, Gauri had left urban India behind in order to dive headlong into the heartland of ‘Bharat’. Nevertheless, Gauri did manage to lead ‘a rich and purposeful professional and social life as an activist with leftist leanings’ (p. 11).
Given the fact that the voter base of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Karnataka lay with the Lingayats and Virasaivas (professing to be Lingayats), Gauri’s exhortation to them—in public speeches and in her writings—to remain true to Basava’s anti-caste ideology and not consort with ‘forces that want to build a temple to an imaginary god’ (p. 19) must have enraged the Right Wing Sangh Parivar and the BJP, which have for long been demanding the construction of a Ram temple in Ayodhya.
Was this one of the reasons the graceful, small-framed Gauri was so brutally murdered by Right Wing forces in Karnataka last year?
Rajghatta is clearly horrified, disgusted, and shattered by her murder, but is not entirely supportive of what he calls his ex-wife’s ‘reckless confrontational politics’ and her active participation in rationalist movements against superstitious rituals, astrology, and propagation of miracles. To his mind, the reality of India is far too complex to be encapsulated into absolute positions of right and wrong. Here is how he describes the world-view of his ex-wife: ‘There were no half-measures and ambiguities for her, no “get both sides” or “balancing of views” that is the basis for fair and balanced journalism in the traditional matrix’ (pp. 125-126).
And this brings us to the following question which has plagued journalists in recent times, and which has been turned upside down with Gauri’s death: If it is ethical for journalists to be ‘balanced’ and to get both sides of a story, how will they be able to balance the perspective of the rapist with that of the underage victim, between the cow vigilante lynchers and those lynched, between the Hindutva Right Wing shooters and their dead victims?
Perhaps the jury is still out on that one.
Nalini Rajan is Dean of Studies and Professor, Asian College of Journalism, Chennai. She has a doctorate in Social Communication (specializing in political philosophy) from the Catholic University of Louvain, Belgium. She has written three works of fiction, five on political philosophy, and edited five works on media studies. Her first novel, The Pangolin’s Tale, was longlisted for the 2007 Man Asian Literary Prize. Sinking, not Swimming was published by Penguin, and Love and Death in the Middle Kingdom was published by Alchemy.
Dispossession, Deprivation and Development: Essays for Utsa Patnaik edited by Arindam Banerjee and CP Chandrasekhar, attempts to engage with the theoretical frameworks, historical analyses, and developmental questions that Utsa Patnaik’s remarkable academic contributions have raised. The volume delves deep into issues such as the agrarian question in contemporary India, the issue of primitive accumulation, displacement and land rights, the crisis of employment generation and women’s work under present economic regimes, the challenge of environmental sustainability, and environmental constraints to development, Left politics, issues of secularism and the social challenges of communalism—all of which are contradictions faced in the development process today.
Tulika Books, 2018, pp. 270, R750.00