City Sunday

Gauri Lankesh fought for the right cause

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

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