The news of the dastardly murder of journalist-activist Gauri Lankesh not only shocked me but also renewed memories of her telephonic interview with me about two decades back. It was sometime in July 1997 that Sandalwood smuggler Veerappan had taken nine9 forest guards as hostages and was trying to call the shots from inside the Satyamangala forests on the Karnataka and Tamil Nadu border. Meanwhile, Nakkeeran” editor Gopal had emerged as an emissary (self-styled?) of the two states to negotiate the terms for the release of the captives which included general amnesty and a political future which had angered the kin of the slain police and forest personnel.
My father, the late Abdul Karim was leading the pack of the kith and kin of the slain against the move of the Karnataka and TN governments to grant amnesty to the bandit. At the peak of the hostage crisis, Veerappan had even threatened to kill all the captives, if his demands were not conceded, but my father remained firm and resolute in demanding justice for all the victims of the bandit including of course my brother M. Shakeel Ahmed, a key figure of the STF who was killed in an ambush by the Veerappan gang along with his SP Harikrshna on the eve of the Independence day in 1992.
The Lankesh Patrike had then conferred the sobriquet “Sher Shakeel ” (meaning Tiger) on Shakeel and “dittu” (meaning brave in Kannada ) on Harikrishna for their valiant efforts to catch the elusive bandit.
I remember reminding Gauri about the same during the course of the interview. I couldn’t get to read the interview that must have been published in the Lankesh Patrike later on but I am sure she would have reproduced it completely.
Gauri Lankesh showed a great deal of understanding of the complexity of the issues involved in the hostage crisis and the impossibility of meeting the forest brigand’s demands for the release of the hostages. Actually, she wanted to interview my father who was in no mood to talk to her that day and asked me to respond to her.
She asked me quite a few questions about Shakeel’s sustained efforts to bring the bandit to justice and the challenges faced by Shakeel, not least of which was lack of equipment like night vision binoculars and rocket launcher which would have come in handy to the STF on the Veerappan trail, as bandit was using fearsome guerilla tactics to hit at the STF personeel.
Gauri was particularly impressed by the forays made by Shakeel deep into the enemy ’territory” in trying to trap Veerappan’s Man Friday Gurunathan in February 1992 and the vow taken by Shakeel not to get married till the mission to nab the bandit was accomplished. I explained to her as to how there were attempts by the family to persuade Shakeel to seek a transfer to Mysore and get settled in life after the receipt of a threat to his life in the wake of the killing of Gurunathan in an encounter with the STF.
She was all praise for Shakeel’s dedicated efforts till the last breath of his life to catch Veerappan. Given Shakeel’s gallant fight against Veerappan and his eventual martyrdom at the hands of the bandit and his gang, Gauri appreciated the fact that my father was fully justified in opposing amnesty to Veerappan at any cost.
I don’t claim to have read much of what Gauri wrote or to know thoroughly about her ideological inclinations and predilections as it has become fashionable to describe her as a leftist or left-liberal or whatever. However, one thing became clear from the conversation that she was extremely rational and very reasonable, someone, who wouldn’t support violence in any form. She may have sounded an iconoclast at times, though. She had a penchant for controversies and therefore ended up fluttering the dovecots in society , the ultra-right and the extremists, as she would brook nothing which failed to stand rational scrutiny, be it a custom or a rite or a taboo.
She would, true to her reputation, not hesitate to call a spade a spade, a rare quality amongst the journalistic fraternity. In a word, she was unafraid. May be a bit of a maverick too . Who her killers were is anybody’s guess, but, one thing is certain: They were cowards, which is an irony! One hopes the murder is cracked and her killers brought to justice for the heinous crime which has robbed journalism of a crusader for progressive causes.
- Jameel Ahmed