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Sabse khatarnak hota hai murda shanti se bhar jana,
Na hona tadap ka, sab kuch sahan kar jana,
Ghar se nikalna kaam par, aur kaam se loutkar ghar aana,
Sabse khatarnak hota hai,
Hamare sapno ka mar jana. – Paash
(The most dangerous thing is to be filled with a death-like silence, to have no cravings and to tolerate everything, to go out of the house to work and come back home. The most dangerous thing is for our dreams to die)
To terrorize into silence anyone who promotes religious tolerance – this is the intention behind the shooting of Malleshappa Madivalappa Kalburgi, an Indian scholar of Vachana Shaitya (literature) and academic who served as the vice chancellor of Kannada University in Hampi, the intellectual capital of Karnataka. In 2006, this straight-talking rationalist researcher of ancient Kannada literature had received the Sahitya Academy Award for Marga 4, a collection of his research articles.
Kalburgi’s liberal reinterpretation of the Vachana verses, which was cosmopolitan and modern in approach had irked many orthodox intellectuals. Vachanas are like daily rituals propagated by the 12th-century philosopher and social reformer, Basavanna. In fact, Basavanna was opposed to religion, religious practices and Brahminical rituals. It formed the basis of Lingayat community in Karnataka to which Kalburgi also belonged.
Therefore, it is ironical that his raillery against religious orthodoxy and Hindu idol worship, particularly in support of another Kannada scholar, UR Ananthmurthy, had provoked the ire of many right-wing Hindutva members. For the past eight months he had been given police protection because he had received threats by unknown people. About two weeks ago he requested the withdrawal of police protection. He was shot dead in the morning of 30th August 2015 at his own residence in Dharwad district of Karnataka by two unidentified men who entered his house, posing as his students.
The new wave of intolerance in India by fundamentalists of various religions, made sure that any liberal interpretation of any religion was silenced. This has not been the first time.
When Sanal Edamaruku had exposed in 2012 how a status of Christ in a church in suburban Mumbai had water dripping from it due to a leakage in a nearby drainage, he was demanded an apology from the Church, and charged with IPC 295 for hurting religious sentiments when he refused to comply. He is living in a self-imposed exile in Finland.
In 2013, Narendra Dabolkar was shot dead for campaigning against superstitions. His supporter Govind Pansare who showed how Shivaji respected all religions and had Muslims in his army, was told he would be next.
The celebrated Tamil writer, Perumal Murugan, had talked about the rift between a childless couple after the wife was forced by her family to attend a temple ritual that allows a woman to establish sexual relation with a stranger to beget a child in his novel Mathorubhagan (One Part Woman). He was hounded by fundamentalists and finally had to declare his own death on Facebook and take all his books out of circulation.
Till date none of the assailants have been identified or taken to task. Is this going to be the fate of yet another open-minded liberal thinker promoting rationality, scientific temper and a spirit of inquiry and reform? Are we to keep quiet, sit in our living rooms, watching soap operas or the sensational news about celebrity murders, or play games on our laptops or chat on WhatsApp, thinking that it is better to be silent?
Anyone of us could be the target of moral policing for even inadvertent questioning or be tortured for as much as travelling with someone of another caste or religion. If being in a “secular, democratic” country like India means that, then perhaps it is best to be silenced. Be silent and live like a hollow man, a dead man walking in dreams.