By Kriti Rana

On Tuesday, Gauri Lankesh, an intrepid journalist was shot dead in Bengaluru. This tragic incident drew and continues to draw a lot of attention since Gauri Lankesh actively opposed right wing groups and criticized the policies of the Hindutva brigade. Needless to say, this has led to suspicions that she was killed to silence her “voice of dissent”.

Journalist Gauri Lankesh

One In A Long List Of Names

However, such an instance of a fearless journalist being silenced isn’t the first or the last such case in our country. Gauri Lankesh is in fact, just one in the long list of journalists killed in order to silence them.

In September 2015 for instance, MM Kalburgi, a 77-year-old rationalist fell to the bullets of two unidentified men at his residence.

Similarly, in February 2014 Govind Pansare, a leftist leader and a prominent activist and rationalist was shot dead in Kolhapur. A Sanatan Sanstha activist was arrested in connection to this murder but was later granted bail.

In August 2013 Narendra Dabholkar, a prominent anti-superstition crusader was allegedly shot down by two bike-borne assailants in Pune.

Another journalist called Karun Misra who worked as a journalist in Uttar Pradesh’s Ambedkarnagar district was killed after he had written stories about illegal mining due to which he regularly received death threats. What makes his case exceptional is the fact that his culprits were captured.

Read: Kangana, Gauri Lankesh and Gurmehar Khan Have Something In Common

Journalists and Our System of Apathy

Over the years many more such journalists, writers and activists have been killed to silence their voices. This is particularly true of instances where the journalists have chosen to write about influential and powerful groups and personalities. Even when such journalists haven’t been met with violence, they often find themselves the target of a systematic harassment campaign, both in person and owing to the rise of the digital trolling culture, online as well. 

When we talk about such incidents, the issue of journalistic freedom and liberty becomes of pivotal importance. While India officially has a free press, incidents such as these raise the question of whether the media is truly free, and whether a democratic country such as India even lends importance to the freedom and liberty of its journalists and the famed Fourth Estate.

Gauri Lankesh‘s cold-blooded murder made the news. Unfortunately, it made the news because she was a well-known journalist. As we mourn her death, we forget the lives of ordinary journalists which have been similarly lost chasing a story. In case of ordinary journalists, the news of their murder is not even reported on and even when it is, it hardly makes the front page and is limited to a tiny column. This lack of coverage or apathy, to be precise, results in most of these cases remaining unsolved and a reluctance on the part of appropriate authorities to initiate any action. 

The Culture of taking journalists and their work for granted

While the list of journalists murdered in order to silence them is long, we must not forget that a lack of coverage and statistical data contribute to our very narrow understanding of the scale of the problem. Worse, the proportion of cases which are actually solved remains very low.

The conditions under which most ordinary journalists work is also something we citizens take for granted. Most of them who do not work for some glossy, hashtag-ing news organization in Noida or Gurgaon have a salary of under Rs 10K a month and barely have the resources or incentives to go find leads for any story they might be covering. Instead, most rely on their instincts and their ability to be street-smart. These are journalists who despite the odds against them, want to tell a factual story.

And yet, we feel comfortable in our apathy towards their conditions until a famous journalist is shot dead in cold blood.

It is thus quite ironical when journalists who work to make the lives of others better through their reporting, are themselves deprived of it.

The idea of a ‘Free Press’ is merely a thought, a concept if the people who are responsible for upholding the Fourth Estate are harassed and even murdered by those who feel threatened by such a story or a journalist. 

‘Free Press’ or not, the recent deaths of Gauri Lankesh and so many other journalists forces us to question ourselves, whether in fact the press in India is indeed free, whether India is still a place for journalistic freedom and creativity. 

Image Sources: Google Images

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