Today, Thursday 5th of October 2017 RAW in WAR honours Gauri Lankesh and her fearless journalism as a strong critic of right-wing Hindu extremism, campaigner for women’s rights, fiercely opposed to the caste system, and campaigner for the rights of Dalits. A senior Indian journalist and activist, Gauri just like Anna Politkovskaya before her, was shot dead outside her home in Bangalore on 5th September 2017 in order to silence her voice and her critical reporting and activism.
Gauri Lankesh was known as a fierce critic of Hindu nationalist organisations in her state of Bangalore and in 2016 was convicted of defamation for a piece accusing members of the Bharatiya Janata party of theft. She was appealing against the decision. Gauri Lankesh was sympathetic to the Naxalites, or Maoist rebels who have long waged war against the Indian government and she fought hard to bring them into the mainstream and was involved in the reintegration of former rebels. She told the Indian website Newslaundry last year that the “rabid hate” directed at her online had made her fear for the state of free expression in India. “Unfortunately, today anybody talking in support of human rights and against fake encounters [extrajudicial killings] is branded a Maoist supporter,” she said. “Along with that, my criticism of Hindutva politics and the caste system … makes my critics brand me as a Hindu hater. But I consider it my constitutional duty to continue – in my own little way – the struggle of Basavanna [a 12th-century Hindu philosopher].‘’
The Guardian newspaper wrote after her murder: “In big cities and small towns across India thousands of people are protesting at the murder of a gutsy woman who fought for the marginalised, who called Dalit victims her sons, and who protested against injustice and venal politics in the face of death threats.” According to the BBC in the last few years, journalists seen to be critical of Hindu nationalism have been berated on social media, while many women reporters have been threatened with rape and assault. The New York Times quoted journalist Rana Ayuub saying that Gauri Lankesh had “received death threats every day, far too many to count, from different sides of the political equation”.
Gauri Lankesh wrote in her editorial on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of her newspaper “Gauri Lankesh Patrike”:
“When the world and hence the reality is divided along the Class, caste and gender lines, objective journalism could become another way of self-deception. When truth is partisan, the journalists also need to take sides. My journalism is with a purpose line, the journalism pursued during the freedom movement by the leaders of the National Movement. No journalist can become a real journalist in this era of Corporate capitalism and ascendant Right wing forces, unless he becomes activist journalist- at least in the mindset.”
On Gulalai Ismail and Gauri Lankesh receiving the 2017 Anna Politkovskaya Award, as well as the special tribute to Jamalida Begum, Baron Judd of Portsea, a member of the 2017 Award Nominations Committee, said:
“Amidst all the disturbing violence and repression, not least of journalists, which is increasingly prevalent, Anna Politkovskaya remains a heroic example of courage and integrity. I am glad to salute Gulalai Ismail and the late Gauri Lankesh together with Jamilida Begum as brave champions of Anna’s cause. In doing this I also salute the countless individuals who are victims of oppression, tyranny, torture, sexual abuse and disappearances, wherever this occurs.”
The awards will be presented to the winners in March 2018 in London at RAW in WAR’s ‘Refusing to be Silenced’ event, part of the 2018 Women of the World (WOW) Festival at the London’s Southbank Centre.