Indian scholars on Monday condemned the execution-style killing of a leading scholar who had spoken out against idol worship and angered hardline Hindu groups in the run-up to his death.
MM Kalburgi, an academic and writer from southern Karnataka state, was shot in the forehead after opening the door of his home on Sunday morning and later died in hospital, police said.
The motive for the killing is unknown, but Kalburgi, who was 77, had been given police protection in the past after receiving death threats from Hindu hardliners.
“Security cover was withdrawn last year on Kalburgi’s insistence, as he wanted to be accessible by anyone being a public figure and popular in literary and social circles,” Karnataka additional director general of police Alok Mohan told AFP.
Kalburgi, who taught at Kannada University in Karnataka, regularly spoke out against superstitions and had questioned the worth of idol worship by Hindus, who form the majority in deeply religious India.
Writers and scholars expressed outrage as they gathered in the state’s literary heartland of Dharwad on Monday for his funeral as well as in the state capital Bangalore.
“He was known to create controversies and make sharp observations against certain practices and beliefs which he thought were superstitious,” actor and playright Girish Karnad told reporters.
“Everyone has a right to have his opinion. You can agree, disagree with him and we have a democracy where people can speak out,” he also told the NDTV network.
Baraguru Ramachandrappa, who like Kalburgi wrote in the Kannada language of southern India, said his friend was well known for “criticising certain practices and beliefs.”
“Even if people differed with him and his ideology, killing him is not acceptable,” Ramachandrappa said.
Dharwad police commissioner Ravindra Prasad said police were studying CCTV footage that showed “two youths moving on a motorbike” away from the house after the murder.
Kalburgi’s killing sparked protests in the town on Sunday, with colleagues calling for justice and the right to freedom of expression.
But it also brought celebration form some hardline Hindu groups on social media.
The killing comes two years after another leading rationalist thinker, Narendra Dabholkar, was shot dead by two gunmen as he was taking his morning walk in the western city of Pune. No one has been convicted of the murder.