Prof Kalburgi Murdered

On Sunday morning, Prof M M Kalburgi was murdered in broad daylight. Unlike the two rationalists who were murdered before him, Narendra Dabholkar in 2013 and Govind Pansare in February, he was not out on a morning walk. He was in his own home talking on the phone. A man who couldn't have done much in life given his age, came to Kalburgi's door, said he was his student and shot him twice, once between the eyes and once in the chest, leaving the 77-year-old scholar dead. Then the young man got onto the bike that his mate had kept running outside, and sped away. It was as easy as that.

Prof Kalburgi, who was vice-chancellor of Kannada University, Hampi before he retired, was renowned for his research into vachana sahitya, the founding literature of the Lingayats, the community to which he belonged. He had been honoured with the Central Sahitya Akademi and Karnataka Sahitya Akademi awards for his work in the field. He was also a forthright orator and had often spoken against idol worship and meaningless rituals. This had riled many in the past from his own community, from the closely allied Veerashaiva community and from the Hindu right-wing.

Odd as it may sound, in Kalburgi's position as regards idols and rituals, he was going back to the fundaments of his religion. Lingayatism, conceived and founded by the 12th century philosopher-statesman Basavanna, was a radical departure from brahminical Hinduism. It was monotheistic, rejected idol worship and meaningless rituals, was opposed to gender discrimination, and. most grievously for anybody hoping to live peacefully in this country, aimed at creating a casteless society. Basava's followers, sharanas as they were called, were to spread these teachings across the country. For two decades in the city of Kalyan ruled by King Bijjala, Basava collected around him a congregation of poets, mystics, social revolutionaries and philosophers who questioned and debated, believing that change was the principle on which human progress rested. One of Basava's vachanas, luminously translated by A K Ramanujan, ends with the lines "Listen, O lord of the meeting rivers / things standing shall fall, / but the moving shall ever stay."

Caste, however, was immoveable; and caste is the crux around which Girish Karnad's brilliant play about those extraordinary years, Tale-danda  (Death by Beheading), is constructed. In the play, the brahmin sharana parents of twelve-year-old Kalavati decide to marry her to Sheelavanta the son of a sharana cobbler. Basavanna is rattled at his ideals being translated so soon into practice. "The orthodox will see this mingling of castes as a blow at the very roots of varanashrama dharma," he says. "Bigotry has not faced such a challenge in two thousand years. I need hardly describe what venom will gush out, what hatred will erupt once the news spreads."

However, Basavanna ultimately stands by the parents all the way. Sure enough, his prediction turns out to be tragically true. Bijjala, who supports Basavanna, is killed by his own son Sovideva. Sovideva's men in turn kill every sharana in sight. While women and children scream and fires burn, the court brahmins seat Sovideva on the throne. Vedic hymns are chanted. Religion has been saved.

Similarly, in the blackly ironic Grand Inquisitor scene in Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamazov, Christ who has come down to earth to be amongst his people is arrested. The inquisitor tells him to go away and not disturb the religious authority of the Church which has held his flock together. He tells Christ that his people don't want the freedom that he has granted them. "Man seeks to bow before that only which is recognised by the greater majority, if not by all his fellow-men, as having a right to be worshipped; whose rights are so unquestionable that men agree unanimously to bow down to it. ... It is for that universality of religious worship that people forthwith began appealing to each other: 'Abandon your deities, come and bow down to ours, or death to ye and your idols!' And so will they do till the end of this world."

The Grand Inquisitor is right. People don't want the freedom to think. It is easier to be bound. But those who choose to be bound hate those who are free. Arguing with Bijjala, Basavanna asks, "Are birds to be penalised because snakes resent their ability to fly?" The answer is yes, as proved by the murders of rationalists Narendra Dabholkar, Govind Pansare and now the scholar-academic M M Kalburgi.

Published On : 02-09-2015