United States Congressman Trent Franks, a Republican Party member, has expressed concern over the curtailing of freedom of speech in India. The US representative for Arizona spoke about the murder of journalist Gauri Lankesh while delivering a speech on October 12 in the US House of Representatives.
“Sharing one’s views freely on the internet can be punishable, even by death,” Franks said. “She [Gauri Lankesh] was an anti-establishment figure with a reputation for her fearless criticism of undemocratic elements within the parties in power.”
Lankesh, a journalist who was known for her strong views against right-wing politics, was shot dead outside her home in Bengaluru on September 5. Her killing had sparked protests around the country, and was seen by many as another in a spate of attacks that have targeted activists and writers critical of right-wing politics.
Franks also referred to the deaths of Govind Pansare, MM Kalburgi and Narendra Dabholkar by saying the circumstances of her death were “strikingly similar” to the murders of these rationalists.
He then went on to talk about the death threats received by writer Kancha Ilaiah for his latest book on the Arya-Vyasa community. “Professor Ilaiah is now under self-imposed house arrest because he is simply not safe otherwise. Was professor Ilaiah’s crime significant?” the Congressman asked.
Franks said the US House of Representatives should unequivocally be deeply concerned about this threat to the Dalit writer. His freedom of speech should not be infringed and it should be the Indian government’s top priority to protect Ilaiah and others like him.
“Our trusted ally and friend, India, is better than this,” he said.
In September, Ilaiah had filed a police complaint that he was receiving threat calls after he claimed that the Arya Vysya community used to eat meat and were agriculturalists in his book Samajika Smuggluru Komatollu.