The daughter of P. Lankesh, a well-known Kannada journalist, Gauri Lankesh was an outspoken journalist. She worked with her father at his magazine, Lankesh Patrike, and eventually started her own monthly, Gauri Lankesh Patrike following his death. She wrote and spoke in Kannada and English, appealing to the masses and the classes equally. She stood up for what she believed was right, and challenged existing notions of caste, religiousness and those in power. Her vocal nature did bring controversies- she was tagged as an anti-nationalist, and was even convicted in a case of defamation filed against her in 2008.
Controversies and political pressures would have thrown some journalists off, but Lankesh was different. She expressed dissent, she published 'controversial' articles, she spoke up for what she believed in, and she was shot down for it. On the evening of 4th September this year, masked assailants fired at her as she stood at her front door in the evening. Seven bullets pierced her in cold blood, killing her on the spot, and she was left dying on the pavement as the criminals fled from the spot.
Although the manner of her death was scandalous, it was but another following the murders of other social leaders- Narendra Dabholkar, M. M. Kalburgi and Govind Pansare, all of whom were killed similarly. Each of them had confronted those in power, speaking up sans fear, and challenging the existing norms. Following these deaths, journalists across the nation took up cries, claiming that they 'shall not be silenced'. Yet, perhaps, the need of the hour is not an active taking up of arms, rather, cultivating the ability to remain passive and take criticism constructively. The attitude of taking offense at every small thing percolates to other avenues beyond just journalism as well, and is a symptom of our severe inability to take criticism. It is seen throughout- in the form of trolls in social media, in the obscenities shouted at opposing in television 'debates', in the blatant intolerance that those not in power face every day. The reply to a complaint is always a verbal attack, rather than a well-thought-out rebuttal.
The idea behind a democracy is giving the people their right to express dissent against a wrong that they feel, without feeling ashamed or unsafe. Lines become blurred when something is deemed 'intolerant' or 'offensive', but that is still no provocation for murder.
What is missing, is a space for a coherent dialogue to happen. Gauri Lankesh might have had extremist views, but she, like all others, deserved her right to speak up, and to receive a dignified reply as well. Oppositions need to learn to come up with an answer, like Lankesh herself said once, in 'words, not threats'.
We must learn to listen to critics, and counter them in a more passive manner, rather than going up in arms at the first cry. Lankesh's death is another pointer to the flaws that have developed within our system- it is only when the power of words overcome the word of those in power will we truly be a democracy.