Laws alone can’t stop the hate
On July 18, 1948, home minister Vallabhbhai Patel wrote to Syama Prasad Mookerjee, the Hindu Mahasabha leader who set up the BJP’s ancestor Jan Sangh, on the RSS and the Mahasabha’s role in Gandhi’s murder.
He made no charge but said: “Our reports do confirm that, as a result of the activities of those two bodies, particularly the (RSS), an atmosphere was created in the country in which such a ghastly tragedy became possible.”
It was precisely in such an atmosphere that the brutal killing of Gauri Lankesh took place on September 5. She was respected for her fearlessness and commitment to values as editor of the journal Lankesh
Patrike founded by her father P. Lankesh. Demolition of Babri Masjid in 1992 made her a strong opponent of the Hindutva brand of politics.
A New York Times’ editorial accurately summed up the root cause of the crime which “has all the hallmarks of a hit job”. It was the vicious atmosphere of religious hate which was fostered with increasing intensity ever since the BJP and the RSS took up the issue of a Ram temple on the site on which stood Babri Masjid.
In this atmosphere, noted dissenters fell to targeted bullets. In 2013, it was the activist Narendra Dabholkar. In 2015, it was M.M. Kalburgi and Govind Pansare; all gunned down. All opposed Hindutva. Kalburgi was a former vicechancellor of Kannada University. A journalist who wrote an exposé of the Dabholkar murder case received death threats. Denounced also was the senior police officer investigating the case.
The pattern is unmistakable and its roots were noted by NYT: “Prime Minister Narendra Modi has let a climate of mob rule flourish in India, with his right-wing Hindu supporters vilifying ‘secularists’. The venom that reactionary social media trolls direct at journalists, or ‘presstitutes’ as they call them, is specially vicious, but not entirely new… Lankesh had voiced concern about the climate of menace against journalists who didn’t toe the Hindu-nationalist line. If Modi doesn’t condemn her murder forcefully and denounce the harassment and threats that critics of Hindu militancy face daily, more critics will live in fear of deadly reprisal and Indian democracy will see dark days.”
The Press Council of India set up a fact-finding committee which visited 11 states and submitted a detailed Report on Safety of Journalists. It was set up in the wake of the murder of crime reporter Jyotirmoy Dey, in broad daylight in Mumbai. It records that in Kashmir “a senior journalist said that since 2008, the security forces were beating up journalists who went to cover incidents whenever the extremists targeted the security establishments”.
Appended to the report is a list of 80 journalists killed in India since 1990. It makes useful recommendations. Intimidation of or attack on a journalist should be made a cognisable offence triable speedily by a special court. November 2 may be proclaimed as the “National Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists”.
The crux of the matter is investigation into the offences. The report recommends probes by CBI. This can be improved by providing for judicial surveillance.
A model to emulate is Clause 4 of the Karnataka Freedom of Press Bill, 1988. It provided deterrent punishment for violent attacks or intimidation “with the intention of preventing any journalist or worker in a newspaper… from performing his duties….” “Worker” was added because in 1988, the Rajiv Gandhi regime had instigated strikes to prevent publication of a daily by resort to violence.
Legislation alone cannot stem the tide of hate. It can be done only by members of civil society.