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Posted at: Sep 10, 2017, 12:47 AM; last updated: Sep 10, 2017, 12:47 AM (IST)
Saba Naqvi
Saba Naqvi

Regional identity battles and a murder

Saba Naqvi
The Kannada journalist touched the raw nerve of the Lingayat vs Veerashaiva debate, which flags the demand for a religious identity that is claimed by some as “separate” from Sanatan Hinduism
Regional identity battles and a murder

Saba Naqvi

I had met Gauri Lankesh but did not know her well. We were, however, connected through social media and 23 hours before she was killed she had retweeted a tweet I put out about a particularly noxious TV panellist. It’s a strange connect with a famous dead person but that’s how it goes these days.

So why did I cry when I heard of a death? Horror at what happened? Fear for myself? Possibly both. And as the best speaker at the protest meet at the Delhi Press Club the next day, anchor-journalist Ravish Kumar put his finger on the feeling. He began by speaking of the fear among all those who are regularly abused before he powerfully implored the PM to stop following on social media those who celebrate Gauri’s death. 

To add to my mood of paranoid depression, at the club, well-meaning friends kept telling me to be careful and a fellow journalist, also a target of threats, asked if I had received a mail she forwarded from a man who threatened to run me down on a dark night. Journalists, many fearless, were in that sort of mood.

As I am constantly threatened online with extermination, I felt very sick about both Gauri and myself and my emotions built to a pitch. I, therefore, cancelled all engagements (including TV) and reflected on life for the next few days.

Calmer now, I have come to some conclusions. First, it’s true that the trolling is awful and can be seen as incitement to violence. Yes, we should flag the fact with some clarity that high-profile media figures who operate in the English language may attract the most vicious abuse, especially if they happen to be women (consider the recent death threat to journalists Sagarika Ghose and Shobhaa De). So they should exercise caution. But it’s not the same thing as an ordered assassination. 

Gauri in fact had only 5,958 twitter followers when she died. But her views mattered in the region and language in which she operated. Journalists who are killed in India end up dead because they ruffle local power, that be from the Uttar Pradesh sand mafia to Baba Ram Rahim. So who could Gauri have ruffled? There are many theories going around but I don’t believe that a general dislike of the RSS and BJP can be the reason for an ordered hit-job, although recognised faces can be roughed up by ideologically driven mobs on the ground. (Thankfully, we can’t murder people on social media as yet!)

I’m playing detective here, so bear with me. The BJP leaders who had filed defamation cases against Gauri had won and she was out on bail. So I presume they would not need to assassinate her. But what she and Dr MM Kalburgi (the other high-profile execution in Karnataka) had in common perhaps was the fact that they both touched the raw nerve of the Lingayat vs Veerashaiva debate very relevant to the region. This debate flags the demand for a religious identity that is claimed by some as “separate” from Sanatan Hinduism. Refer to Gauri’s own piece published in the Wire on August 8 on the complex theme. It’s the thread that links her to Kalburgi.

We do live in an age when at both the political and cultural levels a certain Hindu identity is being forged. We can, however, only speculate at this point. But the purpose of this column is to stress that journalists operating in regional languages face a more real and present danger than us English speaking types. Gauri straddled both English and Kannada journalism and came from a class background that gave her a higher profile than several other journalists who have been killed, noted only in single column headlines.

The other critical point is that media protests should not be taken over by politicians. There were too many at the press club event. Equally, activists do not speak for journalists, although there can be a healthy overlap at times. But boundaries must not be crossed. The main social media trend after the Press Club event was Ravish Kumar, authentic journalist, followed by JNU student leader Shehla Rashid. She stood at the gate of the Press Club ordering the crew of Republic TV off the protest. Her main point was that “she” would not allow them in. 

Fellow media and citizens have every right to lodge complaints and/or begin a campaign about practices of other media. But as long as the media is licenced they are entitled to free movement, especially into the Press Club. An activist who is not a journalist cannot presume to bar anyone into the press club. Many scribes who loathe the hyper nationalist channels are annoyed at what the young lady did. As an accredited journalist I don’t like it at all. What’s more, I later saw the president of the Press Club on the same channel that Shehla ordered off. 

We work in difficult times and there are media divisions and polarisations. But we make our positions weaker if we let a JNU student leader presume to speak for us. Let’s not muck it up like this again.


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