People’s Alliance for Democracy and Secularism (PADS)
Murder of another rational voice against communalism and superstition
The respected and loved Kannada scholar and writer MM Kalburgi was murdered by two unidentified men on August 30 at his home in Dharwad. The seventy seven year scholar was actively researching Vachanas literature of early Kannada and literature produced during the Adil Shahi period in Northern Karnataka. He was a source of wisdom for many students and scholars, and his killers gained access posing as students. He was also a vocal critic of religious superstitions and had been targeted by fundamentalists within his own Lingayat community and by Hindutva organisations. He had received many threats and his house had been attacked with stones and bottles. He was given police protection, which was withdrawn only days before his murder.
Professor Kalburgi’s cold-blooded murder has caused widespread shock and dismay in the literary and intellectual circles of Karnataka. Many protests involving ordinary citizens have been held in Bangalore and Dharwad. At least one Hindutva Bajrang dal activist has publicly welcomed the assassination, warned another rationalist of Karnataka, Prof KS Bhagwan of the same fate.
Prof Kalburgi’s killing comes after the murders of two other prominent critics of religious superstitions. Dr Narender Dabholkar was killed in 2013 in Pune. Trade Unionist and Communist Govind Pansare was killed in Kolhapur in February this year. There are uncanny similarities in the modus operandi of all three cases. It is likely that as in the earlier cases, the police will fail to solve Prof Kalburgi’s murder. In political and social terms, the murder of these three prominent scholars and public figures in India, who raised their voice [against] religious fundamentalism, is similar to the gruesome murders of secular bloggers Niloy Chatterjee, Washiqur Rahman Babu, Avijit Roy, and Ananta Bijoy Dasin in Bangladesh. Democrats of all countries in South Asia face violent threats from religious fundamentalists. The established institutions of criminal justice have failed miserably to counter this threat.
The sequence of murders of rationalist and secular scholars and activists raises a number of issues of grave significance for democracy and secularism. To begin with, the failure of state institutions to prevent these murders and apprehend the criminals is an encouragement to other would-be killers and their masterminds. Is this failure only due to lack of evidence, or due to systemic issues such as the criminalization of the polity and the spread of communal bias? India’s institutions of criminal justice have regularly failed to protect people from intimidation by religious fanatics. Taslima Nasreen and Shireen Dalvi have been hounded by Muslim fundamentalists. Rationalist Sanal Edamaruku has been forced to live in exile due to harassment by Christian zealots.
Communally inspired crimes have also gone unpunished. Over the past decade, many cases of bomb blasts in Muslim areas have seen the police initially arresting numbers of Muslim youth. Later, the hard work of the upright police officer Hemant Karkare revealed the role of Hindutva extremist groups in those crimes. Recently the public prosecutor in Malegaon blast case, Ms Rohini Salian has publically claimed that the National Investigation Agency asked her to deliberately sabotage the state case against the accused. Is it really an accident that India’s intelligence agencies and police have no case to make about certain extremist organisations?
The murders of three prominent Indian rationalists have occurred in the geographically compact region of Western Maharashtra and the contiguous area of Karnataka, within bustling cities. All three had received prior threats from identified groups. The police’s failure to nab the culprits is not only professionally shameful but increasingly appears to be deliberate.
After Dr Dabholkar’s murder, the Congress government in Maharashtra had eagerly pushed his anti-superstition bill in the assembly, where it had been languishing for more than a decade. Now, the Congress government in Karnataka has given full state honours to Prof Kalburgi during his funeral. It is clear that the largest opposition party in the country is eager to lap whatever secular credentials it can gather, after the event so to say, but is neither capable, nor inclined to take a principled stand on secularism and democracy. Aam Aadmi Party too has hobnobbed with all kinds of religious leaders and groups, and has sided with the Hindutva brigade in the recent decision to rename the Aurangzeb road in Delhi. The CPI(M) had forced Taslima Nasreen out of Kolkata after demands by Muslim fundamentalists there. These [political] parties may be non-communal, but their secularism is opportunistic and they have no compunction in bowing to the undemocratic demands of fanatics. There is little chance that India’s established [political] parties will take a pro-active stand against threats to democracy and secularism. Democratic and secular forces need to mobilize urgently to spread the message that democracy is impossible without secularism.
An FIR was filed against Prof MM Kalburgi last year for ’hurting religious sentiments of a community’ after he came out in support of writer UR Ananthamurthy’s statements against idol worship. Now, many news-media have reported that he ’courted’ controversies by campaigning against superstition. An attempt is being made to equate the intellectuals who stand for reason, discussion and openness, with religious fanatics who advocate violence. Arguments are made condemning the murders, but criticizing them for ‘hurting sentiments.’
We condemn such arguments. Reasoned investigations of society and history; and the questioning of beliefs and openness to diverse cultural strands, are essential for democracy. Modern democracy is premised upon the moral autonomy of every citizen. Humans realise their autonomy when they ask questions, discover new knowledge, and challenge unsubstantiated beliefs, including their own. They forfeit their freedom when they submit to superstitions out of fear or greed. Religious fundamentalists need blind followers, who will obey their agendas of hatred and violence.
A democratic society cannot exist without people like Dabholkar, Pansare and Kalburgi; whereas communalists and fanatics of all colours are enemies of democracy. Any effort to equate the two is misleading. Even at the level elementary morality, there is a distinction between verbal and rational criticism, and the practice of violence. The choice between the two is essential, and a society cannot be democratic unless majority of the people choose the former over the latter.
The People’s Alliance for Democracy and Secularism pays homage to Prof Kalburgi and stands with his wife, children and all people of Karnataka who have protested against his murder.
- That the police uphold the obligations of their profession and arrest the murderers of Narendra Dhabolkar, Govind Pansare and MM Kalburgi at the earliest. The masterminds of these murders and their organisations must be identified publicly and given adequate legal punishments.
- The laws relating to ’hurt religious sentiments’ should be repealed. If anyone deliberately humiliates or threatens any community through speech or words, laws relating to hate speech should be used.
- We also call upon teachers and university trade unions and media workers and writers organisations to support calls for protection of rights of freedom of expression of teachers, scholars, media personnel and literary workers
We call attention of the public to the fact that the electoral successes of the BJP have emboldened Hindutva fundamentalists, who are becoming increasing brazen in their attacks, not only on religious minorities, but on all democratic and secular groups and individuals. Democratic and secular forces should redouble their efforts to mobilise public opinion against these fanatics to uphold and protect the hard-won freedoms of India’s democratic constitution.
Telephone contact: Srinivas Rao 09393875195
2 September 2015