Journalist Nikhil Wagle spent this week dealing with an ugly develop-ment in his professional and personal life. Facing threats from the militant, rightwing Sanatan Sanstha (denied by managing trustee Virendra Marathe), he was warned by colleagues that he would be the next target, after the murder of rationalist and communist leader Govind Pansare. “In view of a general threat perception”, officers from the special branch visited his home, but didn’t tell him why they were offering protection. “What’s the point of accepting this farce of a formality?“ Wagle countered, while rejecting the offer. He is a very brave person. I admit I am not that brave. When I was offered police protection thrice last year, after violent mobs arrived at my doorstep, I gratefully grabbed it -farce or not. My first thoughts at that point (like Nikhil’s) were not about personal safety. I thought about my family -children and grandchildren. And promptly said, “Thank you!“ It was all very well for me to defiantly confront those bullies and challenge them. Quite another to think of the larger consequences that could impact family members. I would love to have stated otherwise and taken the position Wagle did. I couldn’t.Didn’t. Meena Karnik, Wagle’s journalist wife wrote an impassioned piece about her personal anxieties and fears. She recalled the first time her husband faced fire (1990) when their son was six months old. Wagle was as undeterred then as he is today . And says flatly he is more concerned about “the inability to conduct a democratic debate in this country without receiving threats “ than about his life. It’s the only position worth taking. Of course, it isn’t only about personal safety. But how does one reconcile the two aspects of taking a stand – risking one’s own life versus endangering the lives of loved ones? The broader debate has just begun. And it is important to conduct it minus compromise, as Wagle is doing. Wagle has a lone constable guarding his door. Through my own experience, I got to know a little of how state security works. Since most recent attacks on private individuals have been traced to brazen hits by assassins on motorbikes, cops look out for two-wheelers that come too close or are too fast. Killers ride up and pump bullets into the target’s head with perfect precision. How wrong can pros go at pointblank range? For individuals on hit lists, taking regular walks has become seriously hazardous. You are advised to alter daily routines. Take new routes.And never reveal travel plans in advance. If an armed constable accompanies you in a car, his eyes will always be on the side-view mirror, looking out for motorcyclists approaching from the rear. This can make people in the car feel exceedingly jumpy because, frankly , the target doesn’t stand a chance in hell if something like this happens. The best thing to do while you are being `protected’ is to switch off.Keep busy with something -listen to music, chat on the phone, meditate. Let the cop do his job. How absurd all this sounds! Like it’s `normal’ to be threatened by anti-social elements for airing a point of view that is not approved of by some group.Like a person is asking for trouble… err… murder, by criticizing someone or something. Like this is the price a citizen has to pay for expressing an opinion. Like acts of vandalism are justified when a group decides to teach a dissenter a lesson. Like publicizing a citizen’s address and telephone number on social media and number on social media and asking supporters to turn up for the attack, is an acceptable way to register a protest. It happened to Wagle. It has happened to me. How does a person fight back? Wagle has taken a tough position and vowed to carry on his brand of journalism come what may. His wife has expressed her unconditional support. That takes guts. Anything can happen. We are dealing with invisible enemies of democracy today. They are hell-bent on browbeating those who oppose them. Bullets have replaced de bate. Extreme intolerance has taken over from civilized disagreements. It suits politicians to look the other way when innocents are attacked. The reason why the Sanatan Sanstha is not banned is pretty simple. Which political party has the guts to do it? Most netas are cowards, who hide behind a phalanx of paid supporters and armed securitymen.From the safety of their perches, they instruct their lynch mobs to go after individuals they don’t like.They sit pretty , knowing not a hair on their heads is going to be touched. Pansare, Dabholkar and Kalburgi are dead. I am sure there are others on that long hit list besides Nikhil Wagle. The lone constable guarding him will be withdrawn at some point.Then what? This is not just Wagle’s fight. It’s time we made it ours as well. Yes, the consequences are scary . But the alternative is far worse!