Secular scholar gunned down in India for criticising idol worship

(From the Statesman/Asia News Network)

A 77-year-old Indian scholar was shot dead in point blank range in a sustained communally-sensitive run of violence targeting “groups or individual” over voicing religious dissent.

Following a knock on his front door, secular scholar Malleshappa M. Kalburgi greeted two unidentified visitors, who shot him in the head and the chest on Sunday, August 30. Kalburgi became the third critic of religious superstition to be killed in the country in three years in a throwback to the situation in neighbouring Bangladesh where more than half of dozen free-thinking intellectuals have been killed by radical groups in the last two years.

Dr Malleshappa Kalburgi

Dr Malleshappa Kalburgi

A scholar of Vachana Sahitya and academic who served as the vice-chancellor of the Kannada University in Hampi, Kalburgi was known for his bold and liberal opinions.

The attack sent a chill through the Indian civil society, stoking worries about religious intolerance and prompting an outpouring of condemnation.

“This incident should not have happened. It is highly condemnable,” Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah told the media. Authorities are hunting for two men, who according to Kalburgi’s daughter, arrived on a motorcycle at their home Sunday, knocked on the door and fired two shots that killed her father, Inspector S.S. Hiremath said. He declined to elaborate.

Police are investigating whether Kalburgi’s murder was connected to death threats he had received last year from angry right-wing Hindu groups after he criticised idol worship and superstitious beliefs of the Hindus. He was provided police security about two weeks ago at the scholar’s request, the police said. “Everyone has the right to express his opinion,” the actor had said. Director Girish Karnad said. “If this grows in Karnataka, we are in trouble.”

Columnist Nitin Pai, who founded a think tank in the southern city of Bangalore, said on Twitter: “Shocked at the murder of M.M. Kalburgi. Disgusted that his killers have apologists among us.” India has long held secularism to be a keystone of its constitution – and a necessity for keeping peace among disparate cultures defined by caste, clan, tribe or religion, including Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, Sikhism, Jainism and Buddhism  Earlier this year, unknown attackers gunned down another anti-superstition crusader, Indian writer and communist politician Govind Pansare, as he and his wife were taking a walk in a western Maharashtra state. In another daytime attack in 2013, two assailants gunned down Narendra Dabholkar, a 68-year-old doctor-turned-activist, while he was out for a walk in the Maharashtra city of Pune, near Mumbai.

Police have arrested two suspects in Dabholkar’s murder. He had received years of death threats and demands that he stop giving lectures in villages across Maharashtra state promoting rationalist thought and discouraging superstitions, religious extremism, black magic and animal or human sacrifice. The Maharashtra’s government later passed long-stalled legislation that Dabholkar had worked on banning religious exploitation and fraudulent medical workers.

Activists have said the legislation does not go far enough since it only allows complaints from victims and their families, not from third parties, which they say limits the law’s effectiveness because most victims are invested in superstitious beliefs and are not likely to complain.

Reacting to Kalburgi’s murder, co-convenor   Bajrang Dal’s Bantwal cell, Bhuvith Shetty, triggered a controversy on Sunday by welcoming the assassination of scholar MM Kalburgi. Members of Left and progressive groups protested outside Karnataka Assembly against “snuffing out of freedom of expression” in a secular society.

Condemning the killing of Prof Kalburgi, he said, “Rightist forces must realise that killings of those with whom they differ will in no way put an end to rationalist thinking and scientific spirit of enquiry. Intolerance and attack on freedom of  expression will definitely recoil on those who practice them,” the party said.–with agency reports

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