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Rationalists under threat

It is a crime to be a rationalist in India. You are not supposed to speak your mind, question religious beliefs or attack witless superstitions. And if you still dare to do so, be ready to be greeted with bullets.This is at least what the death of Kannada epigraphist and academic, Dr <g data-gr-id="36">M M</g> Kalburgi is suggestive of. On 30 August at around 8.40 am, some miscreants barged into his house at Kalyan Nagar (Karnataka) and opened fire.A severely injured Kalburgi was rushed to the hospital but failed to respond to treatment and succumbed to the wounds.So who killed Malleshappa Kalburgi, a leading Indian scholar, and a well-known rationalist thinker?Police say they are still investigating the motive for Sunday morning’s killing. Two men arrived by <g data-gr-id="31">a motorcycle</g> at the scholar’s home in Dharwad in Karnataka state. One knocked on his door, entered the house claiming to be Dr Kalburgi’s student, had a brief conversation with the teacher - then shot him dead and escaped on the waiting bike.

The death of a “straight-talking, rationalist researcher of ancient Kannada literature”, as a newspaper described him, has shocked the nation. Police are exploring whether the killing is linked to last year’s remarks by Dr. Kalburgi against idol worship, which had angered right-wing Hindu groups.In February two gunmen shot the veteran left-wing activist Govind Pansare, 81, and his wife, Uma Pansare, 78, during their daily morning walk, not far from their home in the western Indian state of Maharashtra. Uma Pansare is slowly recovering from her injuries, but Govind Pansare died soon after the attack. In 2013, another well-known secular activist, Narendra Dabholkar, was assassinated in the same manner. Dabholkar and Govind Pansare had been speaking out against the rising tide of Hindu fundamentalist tendencies in India.Maharashtra is no stranger to progressive activism. It has been home to some of the strongest anti-caste social movements in South Asia. The city of Kolhapur, where Govind Pansare was murdered, was a princely state a little over a century ago, led by social reformer Chhatrapati Shahu Maharaj, who enacted one of But in recent years, outspoken activists such as Dabholkar and <g data-gr-id="38">Pansare</g> had received threats from religious-right groups that believe in Hindutva, the chauvinistic ideology that India is a solely Hindu homeland.The former University vice-chancellor had been given police protection after Hindu hardliners protested against his comments. 

Some of these groups actually celebrated the professor’s killing on social media yesterday.Many believe Dr. Kalburgi made many enemies within his own Lingayat community - an influential Hindu sect that dominates life and politics in Karnataka - with his outspoken remarks about its traditional beliefs and practices.Lingayatas, a middle caste, comprise 12-14% of Karnataka’s population, and dominate politics in the state - most of the state’s chief ministers have belonged to the community. This is a sad day.
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