The horrors of mocking Hinduism and giving rationalists a dog’s death

It is not the fragility of reason that we are watching but the helplessness of dissent in democracy.

 |  5-minute read |   06-09-2015
  • ---
    Total Shares

A friend of mine who loves both theatre and science came to me recently deeply upset and disturbed by the recent deaths of Dabholkar and Kalburgi. He asked me whether I had read the reports, watched the TV interviews and listened to the responses.

He remarked that there is a predictable drama to these events. “If I were a playwright I would title the sequence the death of a rationalist”.

Look at the sequence it as predictable as Pavlov’s dogs. An old man out for a morning walk with his wife is shot in daylight. He is alone, vulnerable engaged in the everydayness of life and someone assassinates him. It is a brutal murder, brutally celebrated. One senses the bloodthirstiness of groups like the Bajrang Dal celebrating the demise of one more intellectual, eccentric or dissenter and India watches helplessly. My friend’s comments though dramatic had a ring of truth. It made one think of Stalins’ taunt


“How many battalions does the Pope have?” Today when religious groups have the majoritarian armies, one has to ask in a similar vein “How many battalions does a rationalist have?” The answer is stark and simple. He stands alone marshalling his army of ideas but he stands alone, vulnerable and courageous. Whether it is Dabholkar or Kalburgi, the narrative is the same.

One must mark a strange difference. In a sociological sense, the secularist can summon the crowd, at least an audience, even if it is in elite circles but a rationalist, who in many ways is a sibling species is seen as an eccentric isolate. Today the secular can be seen as a form of correctness which can still summon a collective, the rationalist is an oddly singular creature. One almost feels that separating religion and state is easy, but defending reason and making a case for the reasonable seems to irritate vested interests.

There is also a predictability to the aftermath of the murder. The vulgarity, where Bajrang Dal or Shiv Sena activists gloat over the murder and greedily add the next target. After Kalburgi’s death, Shetty from the Bajrang Dal posted “then it was Ananthamurthy and now Kalburgi. Mock Hinduism and die a dog’s death.” All this is done with impunity.

The death of the rationalist produces two casualties — rule of reason and rule of law. Professor Kalburgi was a researcher, a literary figure, an educationist who taught a generation of students how to read a book, and rules of interpretation for discourse. An old teacher, he became vice-chancellor of Kannada University at Hampi. His productivity was prodigious, editing many volumes of FG Halakatti, editing the works of Basavaraj Kattamani. He was an authority of Vachana literature. Like many scholars he was classical, productive and difficult in that his views were difficult to digest for the interest groups. A scholar might see his work as an array of footnotes. His audience might read it as a set of threatening interpretations. In his reading of Basavanna, Kalburgi showed that as a reformer Basavanna who founded The Lingayat sect was anti-caste, anti-gender, that such a movement preached both equality and inclusiveness that current interests found indigestible.

Many Lingayats found Kalburgi’s reading of Basavanna unpalatable and forced him to retract which he did when he and his family were physically threatened. In fact, the treatment meted out to Kalburgi reminded one of the response to Perumal Murugan, the author, who was terrorised into silence.

As Kalburgi admitted “by recanting he committed intellectual suicide.” Murugan too has been reduced to abject silence. In both cases it was threat to the family that silences the intellectual.


Kalburgi was also an avid supporterof the late UR Ananthamurthy, who forall his respect for Brahminism was critical of it. In his celebrated article onnude worship. URA recounted his childhood efforts at urinating on idols testing out to see whether divine retribution followed.

Divine retribution may not have hit them but they were subject to severe attacks by VHP, Ram Sena and the Bajrang Dal. On 30th August two gunmen gunmen masquerading as students killed

The death of rationalist MM Kalburgi shows that there is a dangerous trend taking place where academics are being bullied into silence.

Kalburgi at point blank region.

A society might mourn but the murder of the rationalist becomes a relay race. The Bajrang Dal was tweeting ‘ Kalburgi’ is gone, KS Bhagwan is next’. It is a quilt roll call of death with the forces of law and order watching helplessly or indifferently. A concerned society gathers in town and in seminar rooms in dignified silence but the raucous almost barbaric celebration of interest groups continues. It is not the fragility of reason that we are watching but the helplessness of dissent in democracy.


To add a grim footnote Kalburgi was not the first casualty. It was one of Kalburgi’s supporters the journalist Satyampete who was found killed and dumped in a drain in Gulbarga. Of course one can reduce such violence to the consequence of sociological tussles, where murder appears an inevitable consequence of controversy.

One can add almost confidentially that a scholars text is not an antiseptic document but a lethal argument mediating between conflicting groups. But mere sociology does not explain away the violence.

To say Kalburgi’s texts were the battle between majority and minority groups, is to almost say scholarship has no right to intervene in religion. To admit such a thing on Teachers Day makes one wonder what the University community is about. It forces one to ask is scholarship subservient to religion or an autonomous force with its own practitioners and believers.

When one thinks of UR Anathamurthy, Kalburgi, Dabholkar one sees not just the demise of the rationalist but the death of a great line of teachers, scholars who taught one to believe in the power of ideas. Ideas hurt but scholars who propound them may be ordinary citizens without the might of battalions.

On Teachers’ Day one must vow to protect them, saluting every teacher as student and as dissenter, interpreter. A toast on Teachers’ Day that they outline every act of prejudice and thrive despite the forces of middle class prejudice gathering around them.


Shiv Visvanathan Shiv Visvanathan @shivvisvanathan

The writer is a social nomad

Like DailyO Facebook page to know what's trending.