There is a striking similarity in the murders of Narendra Dabholkar, Govind Pansare and M M Kalburgi. All of them were active rationalists; they wrote and spoke openly against age-old traditions and beliefs and tried to promote scientific temper, spirit of inquiry and reform. Though these are officially the national ethos of modern India and enshrined as Fundamental Duties of citizens in Indian Constitution, they were brutally murdered for practicing and promoting them. Unidentified motorcycle borne killers shot them dead, point blank.
Malleshappa Madivalappa Kalburgi, a scholar, writer and academic, has authored books and was respected widely for his fearless opinions based on scholarly studies. He was former vice chancellor of Kannada University in Hampi; received national sahitya akademi award in 2006 for a collection of his research articles on Kannada folklore, religion and culture.
In the new wave of intolerance in India, Kalburgi’s criticism against idolatry in Hinduism was enough for some groups to hate him. The same people who used venomous language against him also attacked another famous Kannada writer U R Ananthamurthy too who was a co-traveller of Kalburgi in the same campaign for rational thought. Ananthamuthy and Kalburgi wrote and campaigned hand in hand.
Idolatry was heavily criticised by many Hindu reformers during the past centuries. Are we fast losing the tolerant stream of Hinduism that took pride of multiple streams of thought including that of the Charvakas and the Lokayats who denounced Vedas and stood for critical inquiry of old beliefs? Though Charvakas were silenced, a new Hinduism seemed emerging in the last century that took pride of different world-views co-existing. That is pushed back and intolerance has taken the front seat now. Those critics who could not be answered with logic are now silenced with guns. Imagine if Dayananda Saraswati (1824 – 1883, founder of Arya Samaj), who raised harsh criticism against idolatry and ritualistic worship, was living in our times! Will these motorcycle borne criminals spare a reformer like him?
We are yet to come out from the shock of the assassinations of Narendra Dabholkar and Govind Pansare in 2013 and 2014.
The wave of intolerance against rationalist positions is not limited to violent groups of any single region. The enemies of reason are afraid of word, pen and keyboard. They try to stop the flow of free thought by guns.
In 2012 when I found the source of the “miracle” of dripping Jesus statue in a Mumbai Catholic church as toilet drainage clogging, professional teamsters were employed to attack me outside the TV studio. I escaped. But the church leaders got their front groups filing blasphemy complaints against me and the cardinal demanded my apology. Upon my refusal to apologise, extremist Catholic groups on internet discussed my assassination. I had to leave India for my safety and to continue work for a tolerant sane world free from blinding beliefs and superstitions.
Two years ago Narendra Dabholkar called me and encouraged me to return to India to continue my fights from the Indian base. He even offered to protect me. Four days later I heard his death.
The wave of violence against rationalist bloggers in neighbouring Bangladesh is not different from India. Avijith Roy, moderator of the internationally renowned rationalist portal Mukto-Mona (Free Mind), was murdered this year. And Washiqur Rahman, who condemned the killers of Avijit in his blog, was killed weeks later. Ananta Bijoy Das, a 30 year old banker and editor of a journal namely jukti (Reason) who used to blog vigorously against religious bigotry was murdered recently.
When religious groups take to violence because they can’t face opposing views, governments have to assure Free Speech to protect the right of those who stand for science and progress. If opinions and rational point of view can’t be expressed freely, especially in a country where religion holds much sway, many major achievements civilization will be at stake.
I am deeply shocked and grieved about the tragic end of my rationalist colleagues. Bigots afraid of honest dialogue try to silence us with guns. Despite the alarming situation, rationalists are not so easily scared away. There are more and more thinking people coming out and jointly try to create an atmosphere of dialogue. We can’t afford to give up.
– The author is President, Rationalists International. Having faced threats to his life, he now lives in Europe, under self-imposed exile.