My Friend Gauri
The first time I came in contact with Gauri Lankesh was may be two decades ago. I knew her father P. Lankesh who had asked me the first time I met him – he knew about my problems with the management of Kasturba Medical College, Mangalore who were trying to get rid of me – “How much are they paying you?” I do not remember the amount but is must have been a couple of thousand then in 1989 or so. But I told him that and he said “We teachers are always scared of the unknown. Can’t you earn that much without their job? I am doing it, kicked my job, I am not starving on the streets. Kick their job or wait for them to do that. Do not give up on doing what you think is right!” After a few months when they had tried to dismiss me, he was one of the few who dared to write in detail about the Pais of Manipal in my support. Later on he supported me in quite a few things.
But, Gauri I came to know when she called me in connection with an alleged miraculous power of one Hanumantharayappa from Tumkur. It was some time in 1993 and that time I was on a tour of Karnataka and had heard of him having some supernatural powers. He was supposed to be identifying playing cards from their reverse side by the power of Shani! So, I had challenged him for a display of those and that I would give him an award of Ten thousand rupees to him if he could identify correctly nine of the ten I would deal him. She was the reporter of a now defunct English weekly called Sunday, published from Kolkata in those days. She wanted to cover that testing his powers because she said she had checked him and could not find out how he was doing it!
The testing happened in the chamber of Dr. H.Narasimhiah the former Vice Chancellor of Bangalore University which was in the National College and was the Mecca of the rationalists in those days. To put it in short it ended up in demolishing his so called miraculous powers because I ended up in doing what he was doing better than him! He could only tell the denomination of the card, I could tell even the suit which he felt was a higher power than his and ended up with his falling at my feet and acknowledging that I was his guru! So, the to be test ended up on a cordial note with two of us posing for a photo – but busing his myth of having supernatural powers.
So, that was the first time we had met. Subsequently she was working for Times of India if I remember rightly and there was not much contact between us. But, when she started editing Lankesh Patrike after her father’s demise they used to carry stories of interest to them and occasionally she used to get in touch but it was mostly through the reporters who used to get in touch for information and quotes. Subsequent to the dispute about her role as the editor of the periodical and her brother who was owning it she started her own publication called as Gauri Lankesh Patrike that she came into contact again, this time as an ideologue as well as a journalist . She used to carry the usual items about us which were of interest to her. In the meanwhile she was growing in public life with her stands against communalism of the majority with the organization called as Komu Sauharda Vedike, which I felt at many times was taking a soft stand against the excesses of the so-called minority organizations. We had shared public platforms quite a few times.
When I came into close touch with her again was at a protest we had organized against the murder of Dr.Narendra Dhabolkar outside the banashankarti shopping complex at Bengaluru. That was the time when we had put forward the demand that Karnataka Govt. too should enact the act like the Maharashtra one to eradicate inhuman practices in the name of religion. Later on the demand picked up and there were a number of individuals and organizations who took it up.
I can recall two of the campaigns in which we had worked closely together in the last few years. One was the massive illegalities, exploitation and murder at Dharmasthala near Mangalore. Through RTI Somanath Nayak of Nagarika Seva Trust and his colleague Ranjan Rao had collected thousands of pages of records and unearthed huge scams. They were keen on exposing them and had lodged complaints, cases , submitted memoranda to the ministers and also sent them on to the press. Despite of being so called free and objective not many of them had the courage to publish those. Gauri was the one with the courage to do that. One day she called me and said “ tell me is Somanath Nayak an RSS man?”. I told her he was but no longer is. She said OK I am going by your word and started going ahead with publishing the material supplied by him. As Somanatha Nayak told me as I was writing this, he was hoping that the latest in his struggle would have been published by her, but alas she is no more. So, the struggle against the atrocities there has lost one of its biggest supporters.
When I needed something to be supported she would put her reporter on that immediately. The most recent case in that was the murder of the RTI activist Vinayak Baliga. She lent us full support in our fight for justice for him. She reported the issues which the others were too scared to write on. Like the involvement of the kashi Math and the temple and their alleged role in the murder. She fearlessly reported on those issues. She supported our fight for justice for Vinayak Baliga by meeting the Home minister and the higher ups in the Police department many times when I had requested her. She took up the issue of the irregularities in the building of the Sharada Vidyalaya, Mangalore about which Baliga had filed cases with the commissioner and which his sister and I were pursuing after his murder. Since the head of those was M.B.Puranik the head of Vishwa Hindu Parishad of Dakshina Kannada not many had the courage to write about it though the documents are very clear that the built up area is twice the sanctioned and there is no way by which it can be condoned. She had carried the story very prominently.
When there was an attempt to attack me in March, 2017 she called me for details and carried the story very prominently when I asked her about her own security she just laughed it off. So, the concern for others security did not apply to her own self! Of course Gauri was not the epitome of an adarsh nari or anything that could be called perfect. She had her own faults and I can say that I did not agree with her on all her stands. She appeared to have a soft corner for some of radical Islamic groups under her excuse that they were the persecuted minorities.
But, certainly those who killed her have committed the dastardly act of silencing a voice of reason and a concern for the downtrodden of the society. Her social consciousness was the one which shone through whatever her shortcomings were. We have lost a supporter who was fearless and would support the issue regardless of what others said. Many times that lead to her taking up issues which were true and right but the evidence for which could not stand to legal scrutiny, the sentencing that she was handed down a short while back was the consequence of one such act. She must have hundreds of defamation cases filed against her!
So farewell Gauri and we shall continue on our path regardless of the threats that we may face. That could be the only fitting tribute to one of the gutsiest women I have known.