The Name of the Rose, that celebrated novel which put Umberto Eco on the mindscape of a vast number of readers overnight, was premised upon the idea that nothing is more dangerous to power and religion than fear of laughter. It was in order to protect the religious power from such a subversive act that serial killings happen in that novel. Gauri Lankesh, the editor owner of the Kannada magazine ‘Gauri Lankesh Patrike’, was an earnest fighter against the rage of religious bigotry.
She did not only employ the tool of sarcasm and laughter to hit back at fanatics and those abusing power. She wrote serious opinion pieces on the way in which the contemporary India is being converted into an authoritarian state, her last one being on the mass scale right wing propaganda through ‘fake news’.
In the process, she also bridged the singular divide between the readers in English and Kannada by writing in both the languages, being one among a select class of such writers. One of the reasons why her recent murder is being seen as part of the series of three earlier killings of Narendra Dabholkar, Govind Pansare and M.M. Kalburgi is that they all were writing in their native languages, Marathi and Kannada, besides being staunch believers in reason and rationality, fighting against religious superstition. None of these murders has seen any justice despite two of them clearly linked with a Hindu extremist outfit called Ábhinav Bharat.
What propelled Lankesh’s murder into the national landscape was the fact that she was from the media fraternity and a large section of media got together in condemning it. Protests were held all over the country. Equally noticeable was the fact that social media witnessed a bitter warfare among those who mourned her death and those who not just celebrated it but actually justified the killing, calling her a Maoist, anti-Hindu etc, and hence deserving to die.
Another stream, some from the mainstream media and some being twitter fanatics (‘proud to be followed by Prime Minister Modi’), insinuated that it was the handiwork of Maoists themselves to create confusion in the minds of the people. A BJP MLA did say that ‘had she not spoken against RSS’, the parent body of the Hindu BJP, ‘she wouldn’t have been killed’.
Amidst all this, while there is still no clue to the murderers of Lankesh, the BJP has sent a legal notice to the well-known liberal historian Ramachandra Guha for saying it was the doing of Hindutva forces. Most of the mainstream television media either ignored it (barring a few) or a couple of them actually supported the hypothesis that the Maoists had killed her. The news is already becoming old amidst not just the confusion as to who killed Gauri but also the confusion whether she deserved to die.
That is the most chilling message of the times we are living in. Murders have now stopped being a criminal act in the minds of the people and even the state. The reasons behind those murders have become more important.
Two years ago, when Mohammad Akhlaq was lynched by a mob on the suspicion of having kept beef in his home, police actually took samples of the meat from his home to test it even before moving to make any arrests. As if, if the meat proved to be beef (which it wasn’t), his murder would have been justified. The trend has continued in myriad ways.
Lankesh’s murder took it one notch above where she was not accused of eating beef but for simply waging an ideological warfare against the Hindutva forces. That was good enough reason for her to be murdered. A classic SS tactic during the heyday of Nazism when Hitler created a larger climate of hate through his public outpourings of venom against the Jews, liberals, communists etc. while on the streets those opposing him were silenced one by one. In the melee of larger hate mongering, each of those murders was justified.
However, there is something more sinister at play here. The credibility of our institutions is in question — the media being a critical part of the same. The last few years have seen a rapid erosion of faith in media, academics, judiciary etc. Media has clearly been polarised — into those working for and against Hindutva forces instead of being ‘independent, impartial voices’.
The right-wing juggernaut has successfully created this public perception (not least helped by many of those from the media itself) that the news is just about ‘views and that too for or against BJP’.
For a while there has been a sustained campaign against academic institutions, particularly, social sciences and humanities that they have been dominated by left-liberal ideologies and have always projected biased views, mostly against Hindu ideology. Hence, they are not to be believed and even if this means writing fiction, as in the recent announcement of a BJP politician that it was actually Rana Pratap who won the Haldighati battle against Akbar, and not vice versa, so be it.
In the age of ‘post-truths’, reality and facts have to be manufactured as per the need of the hour.
In all of this, all the sacrosanct institutions of democratic governance have to be stripped of their legitimacy so that people simply go by the dominant perception backed by heavy propaganda. Hence, first lay the grounds for ideological justification of Gauri Lankesh’s murder, then actually kill her and then create so much confusion on the grounds of eroded faith in institutions like media, police etc that people simply remain embroiled in the narrative of ‘us versus them’. The fact that it was still a criminal act of the most ghastly nature need not be even looked into.
The march of reason, rationality and subversive laughter riding on the back of these institutions has to be rolled back, just like in The Name of the Rose.