Gauri Lankesh, a well-known critic of growing violence by Hindu fundamentalists, was shot dead outside her home on September 5th in Bangalore in the south Indian state of Karnataka. She had been receiving threats from extremist groups since the elections of a right wing government in 2014 led by Narendra Modi. In big cities and small towns across India thousands of people are protesting at the murder of a gutsy woman who fought for the marginalized, who called Dalit victims her sons, and who protested against injustice and venal politics in the face of death threats. Lankesh was the recipient of endless hate mail from Hindu extremists. She was vilified on two fronts. She dared to take on the powerful Bharatiya Janata party (BJP), currently ruling most of India. Gauri criticized them and their cohorts for attacking minorities and creating a culture that enabled lynching, mob violence and hate crimes. She also defended Dalit rights, provoking the ire of many dominant-caste Indians across the political spectrum. 

The killing of Lankesh has not only highlighted the shrinking space for free speech but also the increasing threats that journalists in India face today. Ironically, as popular as the BJP is, its religiously inflected brand of nationalism has raised concerns about government-backed sectarianism and low tolerance for dissent. Moreover, India encodes freedom of expression as a constitutional right under Article 19, though it is a heavily qualified prerogative. Laws classified in the constitution as “reasonable restrictions” to freedom of expression are numerous, broad in scope and according to a 2016 Human Rights Watch report, “prone to misuse.” 


Rawalpindi, September 12.