Entire system has been communalised under BJP rule: Gauri Lankesh

As the editor and publisher of 'Gauri Lankesh Patrike', Gauri Lankesh is unabashedly anti-establishment and critical of government policies that she holds responsible for widening the gap between different sections of the society. Here, she opens up with 'Narada News' about her conviction, how the social fabric of Karnataka has changed after the BJP came to power and her on-going fight against communalism

Entire system has been communalised under BJP rule: Gauri Lankesh

Earlier this week, senior journalist Gauri Lankesh was convicted for defamation in two cases and sentenced by a Judicial Magistrate First Class court in Hubbali, Karnataka, to six months in jail, along with penalty. However, the court granted her bail immediately and allowed her to appeal to a higher court.

With this, she seems to be following the footsteps of her famed father P Lankesh, who started and ran Kannada weekly

Lankesh Partike for around 20 years and faced many death threats and lawsuits during his lifetime. In its heydays, Lankesh Partike was a widely-circulated Kannada weekly that broke major political scandals that rocked Karnataka governments and often beat the English mainstream press in uncovering scams.

Gauri, who took over the reins of Lankesh Patrike, after her father’s demise in 2000, launched her own Kannada weekly
Gauri Lankesh Patrike in 2005.

Here are excerpts of her telephonic interview with Narada News:

Has the verdict surprised you?

Yes, definitely. I had clearly stated before the court that there was nothing defamatory in the article.

[A brief background about the case: On January 23, 2008, Gouri Lankesh had published an article ‘Darodegilada BJP Galu’ in her weekly, in which she raised allegations against MP Pralhad Joshi and BJP leaders Umesh Dushi, Shivanand Bhat and Venkatesh Mestry. Following this, Pralhad Joshi and Umesh Dushi filed two separate defamation cases against her. On Monday (November 30, 2016), the JMFC convicted her in the two cases.]

The court said you failed to provide a substantial evidence for the writing. How do you plan to carry forward the case?

I cannot comment about it as the matter is sub-judice. The court has given me 60 days to approach a higher court. Soon, I would move the Sessions Court.

You are often been called anti-BJP, anti-Hindu and anti-Narendra Modi. What is it exactly that you oppose?

As a citizen of India, I oppose the BJP’s fascist and communal politics. I oppose its misinterpretation of ‘Hindu Dharma’ ideals. I oppose the caste system of the ‘Hindu Dharma’, which is unfair, unjust and gender-biased. I oppose (LK) Advani’s Ram Mandir Yatra and Narendra Modi’s genocide of 2002. My Constitution teaches me to be a secular citizen, not communal. It is my right to fight against these communal elements.

I come from the state of Karnataka, which has produced Basava, who opposed caste inequality and injustices in the society, and am a citizen of India whose Constitution was written by Dr. BR Amedkar. He fought against communalism. I am just taking forth this fight against injustice in my own capacity.

I believe in democracy and freedom of expression, and hence, am open to criticism too. People are welcome to call me anti-BJP or anti-Modi, if they want to. They are free to have their own opinion, just as I am free to have my opinion.

When your father was alive, you wrote for Patrike just once in 20 years. In an interview, you said that you deliberately kept away from the publication as it was a strident, hard-hitting paper and you were then working for the mainstream English media. Today you are doing just the opposite and have even earned the badge of lawsuit. How did this change happen?

I could not do that kind of hard-hitting writing then as I was working for other media houses and there were limitations. I did try to do meaningful work but could not do much beyond what was assigned to me. Like all middle-class children in India, I, too, was sent to an English medium school and I was most comfortable with that language. Today I run the publication, so I am free to write articles of my choice.

Was it difficult to head a Kannada weekly when your background was in mainstream English media?

Initially, I had difficulty with the language. In fact, it was the team of Lankesh Patrike that picked me to be their editor. My father used to say if one has to write from the heart, it must be in one’s mother tongue. So, on day one of taking charge of Lankesh Patrike, I started writing in Kannada and realised that he was right. Now, I even do translation works from Kannada to English and vice versa. Still, there are times when I grope for the exact words to express myself.

What do you think has changed in Karnataka after the BJP came to power at Centre? The killing of Kalburgi, attack on journalists, rise of right-wing fringe elements?

Of course, fringe elements are making hay as the BJP sun shines. They are ruling the roost. When Jnanpith winner UR Ananthamurthy died in 2014, members of the Bajrang Dal fired crackers. They hailed rationalist MM Kalburgi’s killing too. Even though Karnataka is being ruled by the seemingly-secular Congress; because of the BJP rule at the Centre, the entire administration system has become communalised.

Here, I would like to narrate an incident. Guru Dattatreya Bababudan Swami Dargah, atop Bababudangiri in Chikkamagaluru district in Karnataka, has been a secular shrine for long where both Muslims and Hindus come to worship. However, the BJP wants to make it the ‘Ayodhya of South India’ by making it a temple and appointing a priest for it, according to their so-called Brahmanical tradition.

We filed a petition against it in the Supreme Court, seeking to retain its secular nature. Last year, the apex court told the state government to decide on the issue. Since then, the Karnataka government has been sitting on the file. When I approached an IAS woman officer, with a surname of Rao (read Brahmanical caste), to discuss the matter, she dismissed it saying: “Don’t you have anything else to do other than this.”

This shows how much the administration system has been communalised under the BJP rule.

What do you have to say about BJP leader Amit Malviya’s tweet following the court verdict? Amit Malviya, chief of the BJP's information and technology cell, posted a tweet that said: "Prahlad Joshi, BJP MP from Dharwad, gets Gauri Lankesh convicted in a defamation case....Hope other journos take note."

It is a direct threat to the freedom of expression and a warning to Left/liberal journalists in the country who do not agree with the BJP, Narendra Modi and Sangh Parivar’s dictum.

Do you still stick to your principle of not carrying any advertisements? How do you find resources to sustain your publication?

Yes, I am steadfast on my principle. We have not carried any advertisement so far nor do we intend to. We have a very small budget and a smaller team. While my contemporaries are earning in lakhs, I am earning in thousands. We have work modules and freelancers. Because of my principle, my reputation is intact. I have no history of taking money. I dare anybody to prove that I have taken any money. Besides
Gauri Lankesh Patrike,
we have other publications – Guide (magazine for competitive exams), Udyoga (for career), Lankesh Prakashana and Guide Prakashana. So, we cross-subsidise, if the need arises.

As one of those instrumental to the founding of the Citizen’s Initiative for Peace (CiP) in the state, what do you have to say about the recent Maoist killings in Nilambur, Kerala?

From what I gathered after reading news reports, I believe that it was a fake encounter. The two slain Maoist leaders - Ajitha and Kuppuswamy Devaraj - were unarmed when a 60-member unit of the Kerala Police’s Thunderbolt Force shot them down. According to the Supreme Court guidelines, policemen cannot attack anyone unless their own lives are in danger. The Maoists were not armed and it is a cold-blooded murder. The police are not the judges of this land, the court is. They should have arrested them and take them to the court, not killed them.

Have you faced any challenge as a woman editor in this male-dominated media industry?

(With a laugh) There have been attempts to suppress me and my voice. Especially the social media is very cruel sometimes. I am now 52 year old and consider students like Kanhaiya Kumar, Umar Khalid and Anirban Bhattacharya as my ideological kids. I had posted their photographs on Twitter and someone commented: ‘How many husbands do you have?’

Can you debase someone just because she happens to be a woman with a voice? Still, I laugh at their stupidity and ignorance.