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Killing of rationalists

Gauri Lankesh

Gauri Lankesh’s killing has created a great stir in the media. Somebody has described the killing as the “Sword” winning over the “Pen”. From what appears on the surface it might seem true that an array of free-thinkers, including Lankesh, have been killed by unknown assailants, generally presumed to be belonging to the Hindu extreme right.

There is, though, no convincing evidence against any organization of the extreme right. The Rightists have been blamed for the killing only by surmises as the individuals killed were of Leftist orientation. Whether these individuals were really Leftists is also doubtful as liberal thinkers expound opinions that could more frequently verge on Leftist thoughts without the propounders being hard core leftists.

Be that as it may, one still tends to feel that the “Sword” can never be mightier than the “Pen” – not in this day and age. The 21st Century is not the time when practitioners of swordsmanship are likely to win over those who have intellect and can facilely wield their pen to put across their enlightened thoughts and opinions. The “Sword” can have a few successes here and there but ultimately it is the human genius that would take mankind forward. Civilisational progress or cultural advancement cannot be checkmated by violence. It has not happened in the past and it is not going to happen in the future.

So, whoever or whichever organisation is behind the killings seems to have lost its bearings. One wonders whether they are afraid of the impact that these liberals could have on their clientele. Kalburgi, Dabholkar and Pansare, the three other victims of unknown assailants, had a very small area of influence. They were largely unknown up in the north. They hit the headlines only on being shot down otherwise many had never heard of them. They don’t seem to have figured in any of the intellectual or liberal discourses. They might have had their own respective circles and might have written books but those had very limited circulation. And, yet they were gunned down.

Likewise, take for instance Gauri Lankesh; she was an editor of only a privately-run tabloid – not a newspaper of repute, just a mere tabloid published in the local language and one that used to come out only weekly. Her opinions expressed in it would have circulated not beyond the four corners of Karnataka and, there too, among those who had liberal or, one might even accept, Leftist orientation. The readership would not have been in millions as it is on record that Gauri’ Patrike was not as popular as that of her father. Yet she had identified herself with the problems of Dalits and minorities and was anti-casteist associating herself with movements such as those opposed superstitions. Above all, she was a journalist who campaigned for justice and also, perhaps, for rational thought and action.

And, though she was a transplant from Delhi after her father’s death and was not quite well versed in Kannada language journalism she seemed to have been very effective in her opinions that used to be frank, forthright and unbiased, loaded with facts and truth. Despite the falling ethical standards, more so in Karnataka, people lapped up her writings. Quite clearly, in these days of paid and fake news there is still space for independent and unbiased journalism, howsoever minuscule it might be. Surprisingly, those who arranged to have her killed were afraid of ‘corruption’ of the minds of these small numbers of people.

Speculations were rife about the affiliations of the killers. According to a theory, the killer could be one of the Maoists as Gauri was successful in bringing over some Maoists into the mainstream. The Maoists were presumably afraid such a process could denude their cadres and weaken their outfit to fight for their cause, whatever it is. They, however, accused the Hindu right extremists for this supposedly false propaganda. Their outfit had recently declared in a press statement that they had nothing to do with Gauri Lankesh and they had no reason to kill her. Innocence of the Maoists, nonetheless, is yet to be proved.

On the other hand the investigating agencies have come to the conclusion that the gun used to kill Gauri was similar to the ones that were used to shoot down other rationalists Dabholkar, Pansare and Kalburgi. Evidently it is one and the same individual or organization which eliminated all the four rationalists. The finger of suspicion, therefore, points towards the Hindu extreme right as the rationalists were all opposed to the undesirable and obscurantist practices observed by the Conservative Hindus.

What was Govind Pansare like? He was a member of the Communist Party of India – a more tempered Left party than CPI (M) or CPI (ML). He used to encourage inter-caste marriages and fought against obscurantist practices of Hindus. Likewise, Narendra Dabholkar, too, was against such practices. He was a qualified medical doctor but he also used to run an organization against blind faith, belief in miracles and obscurantist practices of Hindus. He, too, was against the caste system and promoted equality in society that included the Dalits He also worked as an office-bearer of the Federation of Indian Rationalist Associations.

MM Kalburgi, third of the victims of unknown assailants, was a highly educated man with a PhD in Kannada. He was a prolific writer and wrote tens of scholarly books. Obviously, for his scholarship he was appointed the Vice Chancellor of Kannada University in Hampi. He was a Lingayat, a caste that dominates the politics of Karnataka; but he was a progressive Lingayat. He fell afoul of the Lingayat community as he made some unpleasant comments against Basava, a 12th Century philosophers revered by the community. Besides, he had scant respect for Hindu idols which also did not please the staunch Hindus.

All the three as well as Lankesh, though Hindus, had a perspective of Hinduism that wasn’t quite in sync with the perceptions of common men, unthinking, unlettered, and a somewhat begotted lot as they are. Rationalists have always had a tough time down the ages and in numerous cases, starting from Socrates, had to pay with their lives for their rational and scientific beliefs.

It must, however, be asserted that rationalists and free-thinkers are always ahead of the contemporary world and, hence, are derided. But, mostly what they said yesterday could come about today in the midst of society with all the societal sanctions.

If it is the Hindu Right that has eliminated these four forward-looking people, one can only say that their action would not achieve whatever they were after. In fact, their act will strengthen the rationalist movement and many of the Hindu beliefs may undergo a change in not too distant future. Already, people are restive and there is a growing feeling amongst them many of the features of their religion need to change pushing the Hindu clergy into a minority. One more thing has to be appreciated. For more than a thousand years Hinduism faced the Islamic sword of the Mughals and the bullets of the British but it came out unscathed and, perhaps, is flourishing like never before with all its benign and malign features.

If such massive powers could not subdue Hinduism it is very unlikely that a few rationalists would be able to make a dent on it. But, surely their sacrifices would not go in vain. Hinduism will certainly change in this era of Science and Technology and will assume a more rational visage whether the suspected sinister Hindu groups like it or not.


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