Writer and rationalist K S Bhagwan, 74, has been a critic of Hinduism for many years. He has often received death threats from radicalised right-wing groups, most notably after the M M Kalburgi murder. Investigations into the Gauri Lankesh murder now reveal a plot to kill Bhagwan, nixed just in time by the arrest of a Hindu Yuva Sena member, say the police. The Mysuru-based writer, who calls himself a follower of Vivekananda and Ramakrishna Paramhansa, spoke to The Indian Express about why his work angers people, and why he stands by everything he has said so far. Excerpts:
How do you respond to this plot to kill you?
I was really shocked that they targeted me. Because I have been working according to the Constitution of India. Article 51A says that it is the duty of every citizen of India to promote rationalism, scientific temper and humanism. I write and give lectures and educate the masses on these lines. I am shocked that if one follows the Constitution, one can enrage certain sections of the society. We must take necessary action to educate such narrow-minded people. I am grateful to the government of Karnataka for the protection provided to me. They have saved my life. Apparently, the killers of Gauri Lankesh came to my house several times but because of the security around, they changed the target.
What do you think explains the anger of the people who targeted you?
Why should developing a spirit of inquiry be seen as going against a particular people or religion? It’s not so. Scientific inquiry is essential for everyone. Swami Vivekananda said nearly 125 years ago, “If there is anything against science, it is not religion. And you should reject it.” He had a great scientific outlook and I look upon him as a spiritual mentor.
Can you tell us about your critique of Hindusim? In 1985, you had written a book on the 8th century saint, Adi Shankara.
That book has run into the 19th edition. In Shankara’s commentary on the Brahma Sutras, there is a section dealing with the Shudras and women. He advocates that the lower castes are slaves to the upper castes; he was against the education of women and Shudras. How can we accept this? According to our Constitution, all humans, all Hindus are equal. How then can you accept Shankara as a great thinker? Therefore, I condemned him in the book. Not only that, Shankara went to Nagarjunakonda (Andhra Pradesh) and destroyed Buddhist viharas, and even got Buddhists killed. This is recorded in a research paper published by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) in 1938 called The Buddhist Antiquities of Nagarjunakonda by AH Longhurst, the director-general of ASI. In the last 35 years, no one has been able to question the veracity of my theory.
I have also said that a portion of the Gita must be burnt to ashes because it says women, Shudras and Vaishyas are born sinners. I said we are not sinners. We work hard, by the sweat of our brow, we earn our food. The wealth of the country is produced by us. Krishna is a sinner, because he took 16,000 women as his wives. Rama is a sinner because he kills Shambuka, a Shudra man, who was doing penance in order to gain knowledge and go to heaven – simply because he is a Shudra.
What about the argument that you are offending the sentiments of believers?
I am not because I am doing my constitutional duty. Vivekananda says, “No religion on earth treads upon the necks of the poor and the low in such a fashion as Hinduism.” What is Hinduism? It is not a religion but a conglomeration of castes and that is why there is no equality. And without equality, how can this be a religion? What we call Hinduism is actually Brahminism or Vedic religion or the four-fold system of society. It believes in inequality. It does not accept that other members of the same society are equal. That is not the case in Christianity and Islam.
In modern times, when people from the lower castes are being educated, they are questioning this. Religion is not above criticism. Any religion which does not allow itself to be examined is no religion at all.
Karnataka has a strong tradition of rationalist thought and progressive politics. What explains the support that extremist elements are finding here?
The Sangh Parivar was allowed to rule the state for a few years and therefore they have taken some roots here. That has given them courage. But it is misplaced because the Lingayats, like our former chief ministers B S Yeddyurappa and Jagdish Shettar, are followers of Basavanna. If they have faith in Basava, if they think he did the right thing and brought about a revolution in Karnataka (by challenging caste and ritualism), how can they believe in Hindutva? Does that mean they have no brains?
Are you not afraid of these death threats?
Why should I be afraid? I have done nothing wrong, nor broken any law. I will continue to be as outspoken as I have been.