Exactly a month after she was gunned down brutally at her home, Kannada journalist and activist Gauri Lankesh was posthumously honoured with the annual Anna Politkovskaya Award on Thursday. The first Indian to receive the honour, Gauri Lankesh shared it with Gulalai Ismail, a Pakistani activity who has faced death threats for speaking out against Islamic extremism.
Named in memory of slain Russian reporter and activist Anna Politkovskaya, the prestigious global award is given by RAW in WAR (Reach All Women in War). It is an organisation that supports women who defend human rights and stand up for victims, often at great personal risk, in conflict zones worldwide.
“It is not by coincidence that Gauri’s work, her personality and the way she was killed for her work reminded us so much of the way Anna lived and died for the truth,” the award committee said in a note.
While accepting the award on Gauri’s behalf, her sister Kavitha Lankesh told reporters that it was an honour not only for the members of Gauri’s family but also to a ‘huge family’ that loved Gauri for her commitment to the cause of secular ideals, justice, equality and women rights.
“This is a morale booster for people who want to write and continue to fight against injustice. In fact, the award honours what Gauri stood for throughout her life…that ‘you cannot silence me’,” said Kavitha.
Here’s all you need to know about the award and the gutsy journalist its named after.
If there is one word that can sum up the life and work of Anna Politkovskaya, the Russian investigative reporter who was murdered in 2006 in Moscow, it is bravery.
Born and raised in New York, Anna was the daughter of Ukrainian UN diplomats and could have easily chosen another life. As a child born into an elite family, she had many opportunities to cash in their privilege but she had always wanted to give voice to the voiceless and decided to pursue journalism.
After graduating from the Moscow State University in 1980, she joined the daily newspaper Izvestia, before moving to the small and independent press firms — first Obshchaya Gazeta, later Novaya Gazeta. She started writing about the social problems that plagued Russia like the plight of senior citizens, the deteriorating conditions of state orphanages, corruption in government offices etc.
The research she conducted for these stories brought her attention to the predicament of the seven million refugees in Russia. When the second Chechen war started in 1999, Anna was shocked to see the absence of reporting from the other side, thanks to a lock-down on war front by the country’s Federal Security Service (FSB).
This was when Anna came into her own as an activist and campaigning journalist. She didn’t doubt that Russia’s military action had been provoked by the extremist wing of the Chechen resistance. At the same time, she also knew that the brutality with which the war was being organised would lead to countless victims who would first and foremost be civilian.
What followed was a series of articles and two books that bared the atrocities committed by the Russian military — events like the shooting of six innocent villagers on a bus by an intelligence patrol, who then burnt the vehicle to make it look like it had been hit by resistance rockets.
By this time, the courageous reporter had already been kidnapped, threatened with rape, locked into a hole in the ground and even poisoned on a flight after she wrote about the Beslan school siege in 2004.
In 2001, she was forced to flee to Vienna but she kept coming back at great personal cost. Her scared neighbours shunned her while her husband left her when she refused to stop reporting on the atrocities.
In her last interview, Anna said that she was investigating allegations of torture in Chechnya. However, the explosive article was never submitted. On October 7, the day she was due to send in the article, she was shot dead in the lobby of her apartment block in Moscow at the age of 48.
RAW in War established the Anna Politkovskaya Award to remember and honour the brave journalist who never stopped her dogged pursuit of truth despite repeatedly facing grave danger. Just like Natalia Estemirova, Anna’s close friend and the first recipient of the Anna Politkovskaya Award, who was murdered on July 15, 2009.
And just like 55-year-old Gauri Lankesh who was known for the fiercely independent, incisive and audacious reports she published in her Kannada weekly, Gauri Lankesh Patrike.
In a media landscape where most people steer clear of offending hardcore fundamentalists, these rare irreverent voices were a beacon of hope. Armed with their innate courage, talent with words and passion towards their work, they did all they could to give a platform to the voiceless and stand up for equality, justice and basic human rights. Their death was a huge loss not just for their respective countries but for the entire world.