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gauri-lankesh

Dear Gauri,

It is many days since I wrote to you. This must have been the longest month in my life- the days since I first heard about your killing.  I should say you were very much in my thoughts as each day brought news about events and happenings in this “great” country of ours that is fast losing humane and sane spaces for people to live in peace. I was a bit shocked the other day while checking for the meaning and etymology of the word Peace..it originates from the Anglo-French word that ultimately means “silence and agreement”. Is that not what the majority of us are doing to maintain peace…maintain a strange and scary kind of silence and agreement to all the wrong doings? I was a bit relieved that it does not mean or imply “compliance”- then that would have been the redefined meaning of peace-to silently agree and comply…

The other day I read about a young girl who petitioned the Prime Minister about the need for better and safer railways rather than bullet trains..this was in reaction to the death of a 17year old who fell off a train and died in Mumbai. This girl could not comply and remain silent in the face of the disaster of losing a friend and the frightening prospect of unsafe travel modes that seem to be on the rise. After the Elphinstone tragedy the young girl and her friend decided to take up the issue and petition the PM that the crores being spend on the Bullet train should be utilized to improve and maintain the services that make the local trains more safe and secure. It is heartening that within a day 5000 people signed the petition in total agreement!

Today as I am writing this, I get news about the arrest of poets and citizens who were walking towards the Gandhi Statue in Marina beach (Chennai) with placards shouting slogans about the brutal murder that made you silent were arrested and not allowed to continue their ‘peaceful” protest. This makes me wonder again about what peace is in this new intolerant world.

Last night I heard a report recently released that reveals the state of mental health in India…especially the high rate of suicide among youth in the country ..but does it mention the real reasons for this – the young ones among us  who lose self esteem, purpose in living, cannot withstand peer pressure and expectations of parents and family along with the now apparent facets of casteism and gender in campuses and sometimes in the selection process? How can one forget the troubled face of Anitha who decided to give up and end her tender life in the face of the dark and ominous selection process that ignored her excellent academic record? Maybe many have forgotten the eager and young face of Rohith Vemula who wrote “Caste is not a rumour” and stated boldly that “no one is responsible” for his suicide and it is ‘the empty feeling” and “unconcerned”state about oneself that is driving him on this “ travel to the stars and other worlds”. As he wrote so poignantly “ a man, his value gets reduced to a vote. A number. A thing. And never as a mind”..what more could a young mind who lived less than 3 decades on Planet Earth  have stated as a parting statement? He and Anitha would have got added as numbers  to a report on mental health of the country.

Going back to your life, Gauri it was moving to read Madhu Bhushan write about your reaction to a young man who stated openly that he would celebrate your death with crackers and sweets. And who else but you could request the young man not to waste money but address him as magan (son) and ask for his bank account so that you could transfer an amount for him to celebrate your death!! The way your sister wrote about the soft spoken Gauri whose voice has become a mighty roar  reveals the tender and strong person you were…your capacity to “never ever retaliate and convert a dialogue into a war of words” along with requesting the other as Son and going on to gently prod him about being misguided and having lost his way along with inviting him for a discussion over a cup of coffee” is a statement in itself about how deep a “peacemaker and lover you were” Like John Lennon’s famous song you insisted all through life with small gestures, acts, reaching out and your powerful pen that amidst all the cacophony one had to ‘Give Peace a Chance”.Though it is obvious that it  was others who stated and showed in lot many ways that you are not responsible for your own death but themselves, now the onus for your death is on you alone- for having been consistent in your beliefs, bold and clear in your views, your undying faith in dialogue and discussion, your commitment to democracy and justice.

When India was ranked 122 among world’s Happiest Nations, you remarked in a sarcastic tone “ India is 122 in the Happiness Index..are you happy?” this question is a pointer to many and it is obvious that the cap fitted too many  who have created a situation where more and more people feels restless and unhappy, insecure and sad, troubled and angry by the happenings all around! The factors that make up the evolution of happiness index include caring, freedom, generosity, honesty, income, good governance, mutual trust, shared purpose, freedom from corruption along with work satisfaction….it is no wonder that India failed the test and scored a dismal rank. How can the people be happy when they hear about developmental displacement, communal and political killings, unequal distribution and utilization of resources, rampant intolerance and abusive attitudes, gender differences and moralization? How can one be happy when Hadiya is still captive in her own home, when little girls get raped and killed by their own kith and kin, when to talk openly about justice and freedom becomes sedition? How can one be happy when all forms of corruption are celebrated and condoned by the same people who have to set good governance models in the country? How can one feel joyful with the shameful verdicts from the judiciary regarding rape cases referring to the “feeble No that is an Yes” ?

Today, many will walk the main roads of Thiruvananthapuram under the Citizens for Hadiya banner on a Free Hadiya March “to draw attention of the public to the grave dangers posed by the decisions of judiciary and by the shameful silence and criminal inaction of Kerala Government that claims leftist and secular credentials”. The women who have taken up this cause have been abused and cornered but they are able to state boldly that “we are not just ranting women but will fight ultimately until Hadiya is free”

Let me share a recent experience of mine with you before I pen off. I was with a group of young girls in a rehabilitation home- girls between the age of 10 -20 who have been physically and mentally abused in their own homes, innocent and tender minds and bodies who have faced unimaginable atrocities in their short life. They were asking me all sorts of questions because I requested them to share what is foremost in their minds. One frail, dark 13 year old with wide eyes stared at me and blurted out “ Who killed Gauri Lankesh?”… The poignant words of Yevgeny Yevtushenko sprang up before me prodding me to speak out

“Lying to the young is wrong

Proving to them that lies are true is wrong

Telling them that God is in heaven

And all is well with the world is wrong

They know what you mean

They are people too”

I sat frozen in my chair and looked around. I saw you in the empty chair kept for you in my mind’s space – you smiled and put your finger on your lips with a “shhh”…for the first time in this month I realized the value of silence and the need to discern between talk and silence… That silence perhaps speaks louder than words….Thank you, Gouri

With love

Anitha ( anithasharma2007@gmail.com)

October 2-3, 2017

 

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