Rosalyn D'Mello: Only the hate-mongers are safe

Gauri Lankesh's death has proved that right wing trolls are a very real threat, and they cannot be allowed to hide behind fake web profiles

Protesters hold a rally in Mumbai on Thursday to condemn the killing of Gauri Lankesh. Pic/Atul Kamble
Protesters hold a rally in Mumbai on Thursday to condemn the killing of Gauri Lankesh. Pic/Atul Kamble

Gutted. That's what many like me have been feeling since we heard the news of Gauri Lankesh's brutal murder at her doorstep by still unidentified armed assailants. When it isn't necessarily serving as an adjective, the word gutted is used to describe the process of removing the intestines and other internal organs from an animal or a fish in order to cook it. Another functional meaning is to "remove or destroy completely the internal parts of (a building or other structure), an example being, "the fire gutted most of the factory", Google informs. Synonyms include devastate, destroy, demolish, wipe out, lay waste to, ravage, consume, ruin, leave in ruins, wreck, raze, level, flatten. The first thing I did the next morning was call up my journalist best friend, who, like Lankesh, is a ballsy reporter. She hadn't quite slept the night before, since she heard the news. We met later in the evening, over dinner with a mutual friend at a new Manipuri restaurant in Delhi, so we could exchange notes about what we felt. I told her about how I'd run into an old journalist and writer friend at the press club meeting that afternoon to mourn Gauri's killing, and how, when I was asked how I was, I responded saying, "Pissed," while when I turned the question back at him, he said, "Alive". That was the general tone of our evening, this compensatory feeling that stemmed from the knowledge that we could so easily be targets, but at least for now, we were alive.

What an outrageous thing to say and feel as a supposed citizen of a country that claims to respect its Constitution and dares to call itself a democratic republic. At the press club, one of the speakers pointed out that Lankesh was one of 22 journalists to be killed since 2013. That brings us on the same level as Bangladesh, where bloggers have been killed for speaking their mind. While many are focused on the identities of the killers, journalists who spoke at the press club urged their peers to look closely at who was rejoicing most at Gauri's death. The right wing trolls. Women journalists, like my best friend, had taught themselves to shirk off threats from trolls as imbecilic rants that were best left ignored. But in the wake of Gauri's gruesome death, the realisation has set in that you cannot simply shrug off the very real feeling of being in the firing range. We have to find ways to make people accountable for their words. Cyber surveillance has to step up its game so that misogynists and right-wing lunatics learn to stop hiding behind fake IP addresses and ghost Twitter accounts.

Killing Gauri was a means to silence her, to gut her of her power and simultaneously hold her cold body as an example to other journalists that the same fate awaits them if they continue with their criticism of the government. It is very easy to say, categorically, that we will not be silenced, but what does that mean, really? Every day the threat to one's life and those close to us looms closer, and when what happened to Gauri happens, it is both shocking and numbing, because of the helplessness you feel. An outspoken, irrepressible journalist and woman killed in cold blood outside her residence! She is not the first to be made an example of. There have been others. But each one is as haunting and shattering.

Safety is not even a notion, here or anywhere in India. And the freedom to speak one's mind is under threat. It is only the hate-mongers who seem to have easy, uncomplicated access to it. What does it mean to swallow the reality that your outspoken-ness will have consequences? Does it mean one cowers down to protect oneself? Or do 'we' learn to speak our resistance in one mighty voice, so that the individual is not isolated, is not made a target? It's a scary, scary world we're living in. And we have to stick together, for the sake of our collective freedoms. For what is the point of being 'alive' if one is not free?

Deliberating on the life and times of Everywoman, Rosalyn D'Mello is a reputed art critic and the author of A Handbook For My Lover. She tweets @RosaParx. Send your feedback to mailbag@mid-day.com

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