Murdered Scholar MM Kalburgi Fought Religious Orthodoxy Till the Very End

Murdered Scholar MM Kalburgi Fought Religious Orthodoxy Till the Very End

Noted scholar MM Kalburgi was shot dead at his home in Dharwad, Karnataka

Dharwad, Karnataka:  The mystery of the murder of Professor MM Kalburgi is further compounded by the commonly made assertion that his battles with religious orthodoxy are all in the past.

The Kannada scholar, known for his blunt views on religious matters, was shot dead at his home in Dharwad, northern Karnataka, last Sunday, sending shock waves across the country.

Some have suggested that the death may not be linked to his dissenting views. It has been a year since his statements debunking religious superstition sparked protests by Hindutva groups.

His skirmishes with his own Lingayat community, some say, go back even further.

This is belied by the facts, which suggest that right till the end, Dr Kalburgi kept up his strong critical commentary on these matters. NDTV reviewed his last published article, which appeared this month in Basava Patha, a Lingayat academic magazine. In it, he concludes that Lingayat Brahmins give priority to caste and Vedic teachings, ignoring the teachings of the founder of the faith, Basava, who wanted a casteless society.

Just three months ago, in May 2015, the Kannada papers headlined Dr Kalburgi's provocative comments at an event in Hubli where he said, "Lingayat seers in the state are leading a luxurious life using Basavanna's name and betraying his ideas. If this continues, I won't be surprised if the seers come out and join politics."

These statements are in keeping with Dr Kalburgi's assertion that the Lingayat faith was founded as a rejection of the tenets of Hinduism, especially the caste system, but a parallel strand of Lingayats, known as Veerashaivas have wrongly adopted a Hindu identity, and with it all its ills.

This even led Dr Kalburgi to controversially assert that Lingayats are not Hindus, which provoked the ire of both Hindutva groups as well as the Lingayat clergy.

Scholars have questioned these conclusions, pointing out that he is factually wrong. But these are not just debates limited to the intellectual realm.

Dr Kalburgi's study in the 1980s of Lingayat scriptures, in which he questioned the conjugal relationship of Basava sparked violent protests, forcing him to render a personal apology.

Dr Siddhaling Pattanshetti, a retired Professor at the Karnatak College, Dharwad, and a long-time associate of Dr Kalburgi told NDTV that "people threw stones at his place and he was threatened. He could not come out of the house for three weeks. People actually were afraid that he would be finished. Afterwards, his colleagues took him to Muruga mutt (a Lingayat place of worship) in Dharwad. He did not want to go and apologise about it, but he was forced."

It appears that even as he sustained his crusading zeal, he was not unaware of the risks. The editor of Kannada Prabha, one of several papers which reported his comments from the May event in Hubli, said on that occasion, the scholar turned up at the newspaper's office and submitted a handwritten clarification.

Sugata Srinivasraju, Editorial Director of Asianet News Network, which publishes Kannada Prabha, told NDTV that Dr Kalburgi "sat in my office and gave it (the clarification) to me in writing. So he had begun to clarify through which we can deduce that probably he knew that things were becoming a little difficult. And he also said that in the last two-three years, the many controversies that have surrounded him had reduced his life-span by five years. He said that."

(For more, watch Truth vs Hype: The Kalburgi Murder Mystery at 9:30 pm on Saturday and 10:30pm on Sunday on NDTV 24x7)

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