Three months back, Dharwad-based Prof MM Kalburgi gave up his security cover. This proclamation of fearlessness was a typical gesture from the Left ideologue and former Vice Chancellor of Hampi University, as attacks by critics did not weigh heavily on his mind. With hindsight, one can say perhaps he was too trustful of the society he wanted to change.
It was a coldblooded murder. The assailant came on a bike, shot the academician pointblank between his eyes. Kalburgi’s death shook Karnataka as Chief Minister Siddaramaiah rushed to Dharwad to pay homage to Kalburgi. Even as the northern districts observed a bandh protesting the death, the chief minister — whom many blamed for failing to protect the life of the scholar — assured, “We will take quick action to ensure that the guilty are brought to book.”
Kalburgi’s death cannot be seen in isolation: it has to be seen in the context of deaths of rationalists like Pune’s Narendra Dabholkar who was silenced by rightwing ultras. Such murders are a signal to voices which have risen against superstition or expressed opinions against age old traditions and beliefs. In Karnataka, this was the first instance of a dissenting voice being silenced so brutally.
An activist of the Bajrang Dal sent out a warning to eliminate another scholar, Prof K S Bhagwan. In a tweet, Bhuvith Shetty a co-convenor of Bajrang Dal wrote, “Then it was Anantamoorty and now it’s M M Kalburgi. Mock Hinduism and die a dog’s death. And dear K S Bhagwan you are next.” Shetty shut the Twitter account after the Mangalore police filed a suo motu complaint and arrested him from Bantwal, the hotbed of communal politics in the state.
Tehelka spoke to rationalist and scholar K S Bhagwan whom the Bajrang Dal elements have threatened as their next target. “I am not scared by this kind of statement as I have been under threat for over three decades. I have stood by my writings and thoughts. Kalburgi was a great man and had always stood for promoting Lingayatism as a separate religion. He had rejected the authority of the Vedas. This didn’t go down well with certain sections of society and led to his assassination.” The state government has enhanced his security and also provided security cover for several other rationalists.
Sporadic protests erupted in several parts of the state, as the government quickly handed over the probe to the state CID. It also offered to hand over the case to CBI if needed. “CBI will take time. We are conducting investigation before it is handed over,” Home Minister K J George told the media.
The state government, which has been trying hard to curtail rising Hindu militancy, was left embarrassed as protestors demanded justice. Maralusidappa, a Kannada writer speaking to Tehelka said, “Kalburgi’s writings and thoughts did not antagonise mainstream Hindutva as much as it highlighted the rivalries and politics in the Lingayat community. His work touched on sensitive questions that divide mainstream Lingayats from the minor subsect of Veerashaivas.”
Professor Kalburgi had been in the news on several occasions for his outspoken nature and controversial writings.
It may be recalled that the biggest controversy Kalburgi found himself in was back in 1989 over his first Marga treatise, a collection of papers on Kannada folklore and religion. His articles about Veerashaiva saint Basava, his wife and sister enraged the community and Kalburgi received death threats. He had to recant references to Basava, his wife and sister to save the lives of his family members.
After that, Kalburgi had often taken a stance which stoked controversy, but it was only in June last year that Hindutva organisations went on the warpath. An FIR was filed against him and litterateur Prof U R Ananthamurthy (now deceased) stating that Kalburgi hurt the sentiments of crores of Hindus.
The anger of the Hindu organistions was such that they said he should be exiled from Karnataka as he did not ‘deserve’ to live there. They also demanded his arrest. It may be recalled that Prof Kalburgi, addressing a seminar on anti superstition Bill held at Bangalore last year said, “There is nothing wrong in urinating on idols,” while referring to Ananthamurthy, who said he had once urinated on a stone idol.