Magazine / The Hindu
THE POWER WOMEN - 6
She makes the rules and the news
Gauri Lankesh's weekly is pro-Dalit, pro-farmer and pro-women. One of the few women editors in the Kannada press, she is unabashedly critical of government policies. Her courage and resolve have made her who she is — a journalist-activist.
“My paper is based on Gandhi's ideas of secularism, Basavanna's ideas of egalitarian society, and Ambedkar's ideas of equality.”
Photo: K . Bhagya Prakash
Gauri Lankesh is in the news as much as she is behind it. In the very week that she spoke to The Hindu, she collected a special award for journalism from the Karnataka Madhyama Academy, prepared for a high profile national conference on terrorism, communalism and democracy in her role as member of the Karnataka Communal Harmony Forum, attended another one that focussed on the interest of Kannadigas, while also polishing the latest no-punches-spared edition of her Kannada weekly, Gauri Lankesh Patrike.
She's both activist and journalist, pursuing a conviction to provide a voice and space that is “pro-Dalit, pro-farmer, pro-women and anti-communal”.
Her views — left-of-centre, she qualifies after some thought — have brought her at odds with governments, individuals, political and apolitical groups eager to argue that her ideas are more extreme. Yet, they hardly seem surprising, considering her father P. Lankesh started and ran Lankesh Partike with much of the same belief for around 20 years.
“My father moulded my secular concerns,” says Gauri, who took over the paper after Lankesh's death in 2000. Her paper, she says, is based on “Gandhi's ideas of secularism, Basavanna's ideas of egalitarian society, and Ambedkar's ideas of equality.”
As editor and publisher of Gauri Lankesh Patrike, which she set up in 2005, she is unabashedly anti-establishment, critical of government policies that she holds responsible for widening the gap between populations. “Whose growth are we talking about?” she asks. Her paper carries no advertisements, lest carrying the Chief Minister's self-congratulatory message on the latest scheme for electrification of villages forces her to temper criticism.
As one of those instrumental to the founding of the Citizens Initiative for Peace (CiP) in the State, she cautions against government operations against naxalites without addressing socio-economic concerns of adivasis.
It's a long list of ideals, and a recipe ripe for a truckload of disagreeable mail, an exasperated government, and trouble on the home-front.
In 2004-05, as the CPI (Maoist) activities gathered steam in the State, there were few references to Gauri Lankesh that did not call her a Naxalite sympathiser. The role of the young CiP was regarded with suspicion; it did not help that Naxalite leader Saket Rajan aka Prem was Gauri's senior in Bangalore University and during her post-graduation in Delhi's Indian Institute of Mass Communication.
Matters came to a head when she lent her voice to allegations of human rights abuse following the killing of Prem in what the State called an encounter.
Her position did not sit well with her brother Indrajit Lankesh, publisher of Lankesh Patrike, causing the two of them to part ways.
They have since reconciled, and Gauri continues to be close to her mother, sister — director Kavita Lankesh — and her niece.
But leaving her father's paper with a small team, it was then that Gauri started Gauri Lankesh Patrike. It has since grown into a team of 50, with its office still in the old family building in Bengaluru. And there has been little to temper her views.
One of the few women editors in the Kannada press, she has also written for publications such as Tehelka. “She has taken courageous, if unpopular, stands on important current issues, not only as a journalist but as an activist,” explains Ammu Joseph, journalist and author.
“I think it's wonderful that Gauri managed to move from English to Kannada journalism. It's a great advantage to be a bi-lingual journalist, reaching out to different sections of the reading public,” Ammu Joseph adds.
However, Gauri Lankesh's foray into regional language journalism was not easy. After a little more than 15 years in the English language media in Bengaluru and Delhi, when she took over Lankesh Patrike, it was only on a trial basis for three months.
“It was a total transformation,” she says, for someone who studied, worked and thought in English. Writing news in Kannada was “difficult”, but she refused to have her editorials and pieces translated. “If the writing was translated, (the language) would not become a part of me, it would be superficial.”
A signature, unconsciously scrawled in Kannada one day, convinced her that she could continue her father's work on the Patrike. Today, she's at the forefront in efforts to promote the language.
“I worry that the paper may be too activist,” she admits. But is she willing to tweak its principles and change a “tradition of being anti-establishment” to appeal to a wider audience? “I'd rather shut down the paper.”