With Gauri Lankesh’s murder the room for dialogue and debate is shrinking say Kannada rationalists and thinkers targeted in the past.
Journalist-activist Gauri Lankesh’s murder has sparked protests across the country, with many, including Karnataka home minister Ramalinga Reddy drawing parallels with the killings of other writers and thinkers even though there has been no breakthrough in the investigation yet.
In Lankesh’s home state of Karnataka, Kannada rationalists and thinkers have come under attack in recent years. Reports show that as far back as two years ago, Gauri Lankesh herself had talked of an informal “hit list” of sorts, featuring her own name, as well as those of writers such as K.S. Bhagavan and Yogesh Master, based on how many times they had been targeted.
Having taught at Maharaja’s College in Mysuru, K.S. Bhagavan is known for his work as a writer and translator, most notably his collection of essays offering a critique on ancient Hindu theologian Shankaracharya. In the past, Bhagavan has faced threats from outfits such as the Bajrang Dal, for pointing out stanzas from the Bhagavad Gita’s texts which criticise non-Brahmins.
After M.M. Kalburgi’s killing in 2015, Bajrang Dal co-convenor Bhuvith Shetty had tweeted that Bhagavan could be the next target for “mock(ing) Hinduism”.
“The very day after Kalburgi’s assassination, the government gave me protection without my asking. They (guards) have been with me for the last 2 years,” Bhagavan told ThePrint by phone, adding that he remains unafraid.
“My work remains inspired by my idols like Buddha, Basava and Babasaheb Ambedkar, and any kind of threat or assassination will not frighten me, and I will continue to do my bit of service to society,” he said.
In March this year, Kannada playwright and writer Yogesh Master’s face was smeared with black oil when he was returning from attending a memorial programme for Gauri Lankesh’s father P. Lankesh in Davanagere.
“When I was attacked, they openly said they will continue to attack me if I continue to write about the gods or religious things. I have faced numerous attacks in the last four or five years, including them directly coming to my home to kill me,” Master said.
“They would come with a number of reasons on the pretext of coming home to give invitations or calling me for some programme, but later they stopped coming to me, and then Kalburgi happened,” says the writer, whose novel Dhundi was banned after courting controversy with Right-wing groups.
The media advisor to Chief Minister Siddaramaiah and former senior journalist Dinesh Amin Mattu has also come in the line of fire in the past.
Talking about an incident which occurred a few years ago, Amin Mattu says, “Personally I have not received any calls or threats (now). But long back when I was assistant editor in Prajavani newspaper, I wrote a column about Swami Vivekananda, but I was misinterpreted and accused of making a character assassination of Vivekananda.”
Police went on to register a case against members of Facebook group ‘Nilume’, which Aminmattu accused of having posted his article with misleading comments.
And while the killers of Kalburgi and Lankesh are yet to be nabbed, the talk in the state is about intolerance and opposition to dissent.
“The youth who don’t have the understanding of what we are really writing, do not study cultural studies or anthropology, (they) get mesmerised by Right-wing groups and misinterpret our writings. They want to discourage us from speaking out, telling us how to feel,” said Master.
Sugata Srinivasaraju, a writer and former Kannada newspaper editor, blames mainstream media for fanning intolerance in the state, either for ideological reasons or for TRPs or circulation.
“When I was an editor, we were not trying to be Left or Left of centre. We were just doing classical reportage. But even then there was no dialogue simply because people don’t want a dialogue,” Srinivasaraju said.
“Dialogue can only happen between people who have a certain degree of respect for the other person’s viewpoint. This is not a society where the other person’s viewpoint has been respected, they just want to snuff it out,” he said.
But Srinivasaraju’s claim is hotly contested by Pratap Simha, BJP MP from Mysuru and head of the state BJP Yuva Morcha.
“These are typical allegations. Please translate whatever they (Bhagavan, Master) have spoken in Kannada, you will understand this matter,” Simha said, adding that he has never shied away from debate.
Simha also accused Gauri Lankesh of attacking him with the use of bad language in her tabloid.
“I have never understood her kind of journalism. She was not bringing out a weekly tabloid, she was a weekly abuser,” said Simha, himself a former journalist.
Rajeev Chandrasekhar, NDA MP from Karnataka, dismisses talk about shrinking room for debate and dissent in the state as “nonsense”.
“Every state has its share of nutters and violent people. It is for the state government and police to ensure safety,” he said.