Journalists and civil society activists led protests in major Indian cities on Wednesday to condemn the killing of a prominent Indian journalist, who was an outspoken critic of Hindu nationalist politics.
Gauri Lankesh, 55, was shot dead outside her home on Tuesday night by assailants who came on a motorcycle in the Information Technology hub of Bengaluru.
Her murder sent shock waves through the media, with many slamming it as an attempt to silence voices of dissent. Her killing is the latest in several attacks that have targeted secularists and rationalists in recent years.
Marchers denounced what they called a rising intolerance and a growing trend toward using violence to settle political or ideological differences.
The Editors Guild of India said her, “killing is an ominous portent for dissent in democracy and a brutal assault on freedom of the press.”
Lankesh was the editor of a weekly Kannada language newspaper, Lankesh Patrike. Known for its left leaning views, her publication was often critical of right-wing Hindu nationalists, including members of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party. She had carried several stories in recent months critical of the federal government.
She had been convicted last year of defamation of local BJP leaders in her state in a case she said was politically motivated. She was out on bail and had vowed to fight her conviction.
Senior journalists expressed shock that a well-known colleague had been killed in a top Indian metro area. Reporters have been murdered in the past in India, but the violence has mostly happened in small towns and targeted those who had taken on vested interests in local communities.
Independent journalist Neerja Chowdhury, based in New Delhi, questioned if Lankesh's killing was an attempt to cow down the media. “My question is was it only to settle scores with her or was it a message to the entire media? It is of enormous concern,” she said.
In its latest report, Reporters Without Borders said, "with Hindu nationalists trying to purge all manifestations of 'anti-national' thought from the national debate, self-censorship is growing in the mainstream media.
Amnesty International said Wednesday that the killing "raises alarms" about press freedom in India.
“Gauri Lankesh was never afraid of speaking truth to power. Her assassination must be thoroughly investigated and the perpetrators brought to justice,” said Asmita Basu, Programs Director at Amnesty International India. “The police must investigate whether she was killed because of her journalism.”
After the Hindu nationalist BJP came to power in 2014, several liberal voices in India have expressed concern about what they say is a growing atmosphere of intolerance.
They point to other killings — including the 2015 murder of scholar Malleshappa M Kalburgi, who had criticized idol worship and superstitious Hindu beliefs, and the 2013 slaying of anti-superstition activist Narendra Daholkar.
Condemnations of Lankesh’s murder came in from across the political spectrum. An official with the Information and Broadcasting Ministry said he condemned all acts of violence against journalists.
A senior leader of the opposition Congress Party, Kapil Sibal, said “that it is mindboggling that in this country, a democratic country, a country with such diversities on the basis of ideologies, people are being killed.”
Karnataka, where Lankesh was based, is ruled by the opposition Congress Party, but is headed for local elections next year.