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Gauri Lankesh Fought For Freedom – Of Speech, Thought And Way Of Life

Bengaluru:  Seventeen years ago, weeks after Gauri Lankesh took over her father’s hard-hitting Kannada weekly Lankesh Patrike, she said in an interview that she hadn’t thought she would step into his big shoes. Her father, P Lankesh, who was a leading Kannada journalist, poet and author, had died earlier that year.

Her first thought she said was to shut down the paper. “But so many people sent messages saying, please don’t shut the paper down because it has always stood for secularism, Dalits, women and the downtrodden. Patrike had become a forum for voices that mainstream media had no space for,” the then 38-year-old had told Rediff.com.

Her friends say that need to give a voice to those on the margins defined Gauri Lankesh, 55, who was shot dead at her home in Bengaluru last night. She was a fierce activist, who openly expressed her pro-Naxal and Leftist views, condemned all forms of violence and has without exception been described as “fearless.”

Ms Lankesh started her own Kannada tabloid Gauri Lankesh Patrike in 2005 after quitting as editor of the Lankesh Patrike, allegedly over differences with her brother, Indrajit, who is also the paper’s proprietor and publisher. Her activism and pro-Naxal stand was reportedly a major point of disagreement.

Ms Lankesh worked extensively for the rehabilitation of Naxals who wanted to return to the mainstream. She was also part of the communal harmony forum that worked on bringing peace to troubled areas. And she fought vigorously for freedom — of speech, thought and way of life.

Last year, Ms Lankesh was convicted in a defamation case filed by BJP lawmaker Pralhad Joshi and a party office bearer, Umesh Doshi, who objected to a report on them that ran in her paper in 2008. She was sentenced to six months in jail and was out on bail.

In an interview at that time she had expressed concern over what she called a growing intolerance to dissent.

In tweets hours before she was killed, Ms Lankesh said, “Why do i feel that some of ‘us’ are fighting between ourselves? We all know our ‘biggest enemy’. Can we all please concentrate on that?,” and also, “Ok some of us commit mistakes like sharing fake posts. Let us warn each other then. And not try to expose each other. Peace… comrades.”

Her profile photo on Facebook was a poster of Dalit scholar Rohit Vemula, who committed suicide in Hyderabad last year, with the legend “Punish the culprits.” On Twitter, her cover photo showed her with Jawaharlal Nehru University or JNU student Kanhaiya Kumar, who was charged with sedition.

Mr Kumar, who she referred to as her adopted son, tweeted a photograph with Gauri Lankesh and said, “She was like a mother to me. She will always be alive in my heart.”

Gauri Lankesh’s former husband, journalist Chidanand Rajghatta said in moving a Facebook tribute, “Gauri Lankesh (Jan 29,1962 – Sep5, 2017). Grace. Integrity. Courage. Rest in peace, Jaana. The work will continue.”

Gauri Lankesh is survived by her mother, brother and sister Kavitha, both of whom are film directors.