Solidarity, anger and a strong call for justice: These were the emotions that marked the Rally for Resistance in Bengaluru on Tuesday, where students, journalists, writers, activists, rationalists and progressive and secular minds came together to protest the assassination of journalist Gauri Lankesh.
The message, “I am Gauri”, was everywhere – from arm bands and head bands to the slogans that those gathered were chanting.
The rally was organised by the Forum Against The Assassination of Gauri Lankesh, and saw the participation of thousands of people, including members of over 150 progressive and secular organisations.
The rally began from Sangolli Rayanna Railway Station and Reached Central College grounds around 12.30pm. It was not just people from Karnataka, but Gauri’s supporters from across the country raised their voices against “the rule of oppression.”
Renowned personalities like directors Rakesh Sharma and Anand Patwardhan, veteran rural reporter P Sainath, senior journalist Sagarika Ghose, rationalist Narendra Nayak, writers Girish Karnad, Chandrashekhar Patil and Kum Veerabhadra, and 99-year-old freedom fighter HS Doreswamy gave evocative speeches condemning the cold-blooded murder of Gauri Lankesh.
One of the most evocative speeches was given by Narmadha Bachao Andolan activist Medha Patkar.
“The governments in this country are trying to quell pluralism, religious tolerance and are trying to snatch the rights of the minorities. Gauri Lankesh was not just evocative in her writings, she was also a voice for Dalits, Adivasis, the downtrodden. She spoke against those who are against secular ideals,” she said.
“Some people are against those who are speaking out against their cowardice. Gauri was one of them. They killed her. Even now, when Ramachandra Guha spoke out, they sent him a legal notice. Let them send 1.2 billion legal notices then. We are all with Gauri,” Medha said.
Recalling her memories of a “headstrong friend” senior journalist Teesta Setalvad held back tears.
“She was not just her father’s daughter, she also supported students’ movements because she believed that the youth is the future of our country. She stood for rational outlook and questioned those who were against pluralism. No fascist bullets can take that away. We can’t afford to be sectarian. We have to rise as a cohesive resistance,” she added.
There was also a strong anti establishment sentiment among those gathered.
Devanur Mahadev, a Dalit rights activist, said, “The governments in our country are moving backwards and towards capitalism. Under Narendra Modi, pluralism is under threat. Pluralism is india. The fight for pluralism is why people like Gauri are getting killed. We must speak up so we can be worthy of her.”
Medha Patkar also said that the Hindutva agenda of the ruling government is putting India’s plurality under threat. “The country is speaking up, questioning the establishment’s hatred. Where is Narendra Modi, why hasn’t he spoken?” she questioned.
P Sainath, a veteran journalist, said that in the midst of such a demoralising period, the presence of thousands of supporters was a mark of the fight against a culture of intolerance and hatred.
“This is the largest machine of hate since the partition and it has spread across various states. Senior leaders gloat over the murder of someone. This culture of intolerance is at the highest level of government. They have a thought out plan, a coherent strategy,” he said.
“The nature of Gauri Lankesh’s murder was a message to all of us – yes it is us, we will do whatever we want,” he added.
He also said that the Gauri’s killing was only the beginning. He urged the people to not give in to provocation by the ruling government.
“There will be days of anger. When they call you names, it will anger you. Keep your dignity and honesty, but do not give in to your anger. Our fight is much bigger, it is for the freedom of expression,” Sainath said.
Furthering the anti-establishment voice, Kannada actor Chetan called for “unity in rising up against those threatening the right of free speech.”
“Gauri Lankesh represented the voice of dissent. The voice against the culture of hatred being propagated in Karnataka. She did not bow down to the threats by the cowardly lot. She stood strong. They were scared of her bravery and hence, they killed her,” he said.
“The Siddaramaiah government is not doing anything to protect law and order in our state. The BJP is pouncing on to her death to make political gains and a few are also rejoicing her death. We must stand for Gauri’s ideologies. We must show the cowards that they cannot silence thoughts and our freedom to express ourselves,” he added.
Reporting by Theja Ram, Geetika Mantri and Kannaki Deka.