People Protest Scholar’s Murder in Southern India

Rohit Wadhwaney
150902-IN-kalburgi-1000 Indian mourners follow the funeral procession for murdered scholar M.M. Kalburgi in Dharwad, Karnataka state, Aug. 31, 2015.

Widespread protests continued Wednesday in the southern Indian state of Karnataka in the wake of the weekend slaying of a renowned scholar, who was gunned down for allegedly expressing “anti-Hindu” views.

M.M. Kalburgi, 77, an academic who had had several confrontations with right-wing Hindu groups over his public denunciation of idol worship and blind faith, was shot and killed Sunday at his home in Dharwad, about 450 km (280 miles) from the state capital, Bengaluru.

The protests aim to push the police to arrest the culprits and to prevent the case from being handed over to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) – as proposed by the state government – said K.L. Ashok of the Karnataka Komu Souharda Vedike, a coalition of 200 organizations working to establish communal harmony.

“Handing over the case to the CBI only delays the process. We want the culprits brought to justice and in a speedy and efficient manner,” Ashok told BenarNews.

Nobody has claimed responsibility for Kalburgi’s killing, but Hindu radicals are being blamed.

Two unidentified assailants, aged between 24 and 28, entered the academic’s residence on Sunday morning, according to police. His wife let them in when they told her they were Kalburgi’s students.

As soon as Kalburgi appeared, one of the men pulled out a gun and shot at his chest and forehead from point-blank range, before the two fled on a motorcycle, police said.

Kalburgi, the former vice chancellor of Kannada University in Hampi, was rushed to a nearby hospital where he was declared dead on arrival.

Police believe the suspects were hired killers, but have no substantial leads to identify them yet, an investigator told BenarNews on Wednesday.

The police were relying on a description of the suspects given by Kalburgi’s wife to draw their sketches, said the officer, who requested anonymity.

“The case has been taken over by the Criminal Investigation Department (CID). We are assisting them in their investigation,” area Police Commissioner P.H. Rane told BenarNews.

Threatening tweet

The modus operandi in Kalburgi’s murder bore a “striking resemblance” to the way in which two other so-called “rationalists,” Maharashtra state-based Narendra Dabholkar and Govind Pansare, were murdered in August 2013 and February 2015, respectively, police sources told BenarNews.

Both homicides remain unsolved.

Within hours of Kalburgi’s killing, an activist from Bajrang Dal, an affiliate of the right-wing Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP) organization, posted a threatening message on Twitter, which targeted another Karnataka-based rationalist.

The tweet fueled further suspicion that Hindu radicals were involved in the academic’s murder.

“Then, it was U.R. Ananthamoorthy and now it’s M.M. Kalburgi. Mock Hinduism and die a dog’s death. And dear K.S. Bhagwan, you are next,” wrote Bhuvith Shetty, who identified himself as co-convener of Bajrang Dal’s Bhantwal unit in Mangalore, a stronghold of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Bajrang Dal and VHP both belong to a cluster called the Sangh Parivar. That is led by the BJP's ideological mentor, the right-wing Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).

Ananthamoorthy, a celebrated Kannada-language author who was a fervent critic of Hinduism and nationalistic political parties, died of cardiac arrest last year.

After tweeting the threat, Shetty was arrested but then freed on bail.

VHP has denied any role in Kalburgi’s killing.

“We train to protest, not to kill,” VHP state Secretary Ramesh Kulkarni told reporters on Sunday.

“There were threats to Kalburgi from us, but those were threats of boycotting him. There were no threats to his life from us," he said, adding, “I guarantee that no rightwing organization [was] involved in the killing.”

‘Shocking and outrageous’

Kalburgi, who won literary awards for his writings in the Kannada language, had been getting threats from rightwing activists over the years, according to relatives.

Following a large-scale protest outside his residence last year, which saw angry members of Hindu groups hurl stones and beer bottles at his house, an armed detail was assigned to escort Kalburgi during his outings. But the security cover was withdrawn two weeks ago at his own request, police said.

“My father was facing at least five cases for allegedly hurting religious sentiments. But this time the cowards killed him,” The Indian Express quoted Srivijaya, Kalburgi’s son, as saying.

Shivanand Kanavi, adjunct faculty member at the Bengaluru-based National Institute of Advanced Studies, described the killing in broad daylight as “shocking and outrageous.”

“India is fast becoming an intolerant society,” Kanavi, who was close to Kalburgi, told BenarNews.

“He (Kalburgi) was not an atheist. He was not anti-Hindu. He was just a man ready to question accepted beliefs. Unfortunately, in India, followers of certain icons, if questioned, get enraged. This is not acceptable and should not be tolerated,” he said.

Kanavi compared the killings of Kalburgi and other rationalists with the recent slayings of secular bloggers in Bangladesh.

“If the police continue to turn a blind eye to these murders, it is not long before India will face the same situation as in Bangladesh,” he said.


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