Killing people for their views is among the most entrenched practices of all times. It works better than even burning books. By killing prospective authors you kill ideas contrary to your way of thinking.
The former vice chancellor of Hampi University, MM Kalburgi (77), murdered in Dharwad, North Karnataka on Sunday, was a scholar of the Lingayat tradition, its many intricacies and treasures, an authority whose views many people disagreed with strongly. A rationalist, he had backed Karnataka eminent litterateur UR Ananthamurthy, and in a seminar last year on the anti-superstition bill in Bengaluru, he had spoken out against idolatory.
This had earned him the ire of right-wing Hindutva groups, so much so that Kalburgi had to demand police protection. He did get some kind of protection but only a few days ago reportedly asked for it to be withdrawn.
Northern Karnataka has been at the heart of much political and social ferment over the past 25-odd years. The BJP saw a window of opportunity here to push its cause with the Lingayat community which had been relatively under-represented in politics in the state where Vokkaligas have been dominant.
The rise of the BJP in the region has combined with hard core conservative stance taken by the Bajrang Dal and groups like the Sri Ram Sene, leading to attacks on pubs and against wearing burquas in schools. Most recently, a Muslim man seen with a Hindu woman was beaten up in public.
Who killed Kalburgi is still to be established. The tallest BJP leader in Karnataka, a Lingayat himself, former chief minister B Yeddyurappa, has said the killers “must be hanged”. The problem, however, is deeper than that. The local head of the Bajrang Dal in a town of Dakshin Kannada district, issued a celebratory statement at Kalburgi’s murder, likening it to last August’s death from illness and old age of UR Ananthamurthy. He also issued a warning to the well-known rationalist thinker and writer based in Mysore, KS Bhagwan, that he could be the next target.
Since 2013, there have been similar attacks in neighbouring Maharashtra on unarmed rationalists like Narendra Dabholkar and Gobind Pansare. Both were fearless, forthright prolific writers who enjoyed a strong connect with people and went after rogue god-men and women of all kinds – they also lent their support to the anti-superstition bill in their state and at the Centre. Both been silenced and killed.
The idea seems to be to silence not just these writers and activists but to send out a warning and to silence anybody who ‘dares’ to use reason as a weapon against beliefs and superstitions.
In an age of Unreason, to call for book bans, to attack people who hold opposing views, to create an atmosphere of hate appears to be part of an orchestrated plan. It is something that should worry all of us.