Today, Thursday 5th October, RAW in WAR (Reach All Women in WAR) celebrates the courage of Gauri Lankesh, a brave Indian journalist and human rights campaigner, and Gulalai Ismail, a courageous Pakistani human rights and peace activist. 
Ahead of the 11th anniversary of Anna Politkovskaya’s murder on Saturday 7th OctoberRAW in WAR honours Gulalai Ismail and Gauri Lankesh with the 2017 Anna Politkovskaya Award for their courage to speak out and to defy extremism in the context of violence and armed conflict in their countries, for which they suffered death threats and Gauri paid for it with her life. Gulalai opposes Islamic extremism in Pakistan and Gauri – the Hindu extremism in India. A month ago today, on 5th September 2017, she was murdered when entering her home, in an attempt to silence her voice. 

On Gulalai Ismail receiving the 2017 Anna Politkovskaya Award, Malala Yousafzai, student, activist, Malala Fund co-founder and 2013 Award winner, said:

 “I am proud to support my sister Gulalai Ismail, a fearless advocate for girls’ education and equality in Pakistan. 

Through Aware Girls, Gulalai is training young women to advocate for their rights. Her work is fostering the next generation of female leaders in our country. 

Despite discrimination and danger, Gulalai is continuing her fight to see every girl to go to school. She has been my friend for many years and I wish her congratulations on this distinguished honour.”

  Today, RAW in WAR honours Gulalai Ismaila courageous Pashtun human rights activist from Swabi, Pakistan. At the age of 16 in 2002, Gulalai founded Aware Girls with her sister Saba Ismail, aiming to challenge the culture of violence and the oppression of women in the rural Khyber Pakhtunkhwa area in the north west of Pakistan. Driven by a passion to challenge the inequality, intolerance and extremism, they began running workshops to provide girls and young women with leadership skills to challenge oppression and fight for their rights to an education and equal opportunities. Malala Yousafzai was an attendee of Aware Girls programmes in 2011.

Gulalai Picture

On accepting the award, Gulalai Ismail said:

 “I am honoured to receive the Anna Politkovskaya Award, an award dedicated to Anna; a woman of great courage and bravery. A woman who refused to be silenced. I am accepting this award because just like Anna, I am also refusing to be silenced by adversity, violence and extremism. Speaking out for our rights and speaking out against religious extremism is our fundamental right, no one should have to choose between the right to Speak and the right to life. 

We also celebrate today Gauri Lankesh and her fearless journalism as a strong critic of right-wing Hindu extremism, campaigner for women’s rights, fiercely opposed to the caste system, and campaigner for the rights of Dalits. A senior Indian journalist and activist, Gauri just like Anna Politkovskaya before her, was shot dead outside her home in Bangalore on 5th September 2017 in order to silence her voice and her critical reporting and activism.


Gauri Lankesh was known as a fierce critic of Hindu nationalist organisations in her state of Bangalore and in 2016 was convicted of defamation for a piece accusing members of the Bharatiya Janata party of theft. She was appealing against the decision. Gauri Lankesh was sympathetic to the Naxalites, or Maoist rebels who have long waged war against the Indian government and she fought hard to bring them into the mainstream and was involved in the reintegration of former rebels. She told the Indian website Newslaundry last year that the “rabid hate” directed at her online had made her fear for the state of free expression in India. “Unfortunately, today anybody talking in support of human rights and against fake encounters [extrajudicial killings] is branded a Maoist supporter,” she said. “Along with that, my criticism of Hindutva politics and the caste system … makes my critics brand me as a Hindu hater. But I consider it my constitutional duty to continue – in my own little way – the struggle of Basavanna [a 12th-century Hindu philosopher].‘’


The Guardian newspaper wrote after her murder: “In big cities and small towns across India thousands of people are protesting at the murder of a gutsy woman who fought for the marginalised, who called Dalit victims her sons, and who protested against injustice and venal politics in the face of death threats.” According to the BBC in the last few years, journalists seen to be critical of Hindu nationalism have been berated on social media, while many women reporters have been threatened with rape and assault.  The New York Times quoted journalist Rana Ayuub saying that Gauri Lankesh had “received death threats every day, far too many to count, from different sides of the political equation”.


Gauri Lankesh wrote in her editorial on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of her newspaper “Gauri Lankesh Patrike”:


“When the world and hence the reality is divided along the Class, caste and gender lines, objective journalism could become another way of self-deception. When truth is partisan, the journalists also need to take sides. My journalism is with a purpose line, the journalism pursued during the freedom movement by the leaders of the National Movement. No journalist can become a real journalist in this era of Corporate capitalism and ascendant Right wing forces, unless he becomes activist journalist- at least in the mindset.”


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