After a Bajrang Dal threatened retired Mysore University professor KS Bhagwan with dire consequences, the rationalist told HT that he was not afraid of such intimidations. He also challenged the Hindutva group leader for a debate. Here's what he told our Bengaluru correspondent Sudipto Mondal in the wake of scholar MM Kalburgi's assassination.
Hours after my friend and one of Karnataka's leading intellectuals, Prof MM Kalburgi, was shot dead at his home in Dharwad, a young man from Mangalore belonging to the Bajrang Dal tweeted that I am the next target.
I feel sorry for the young man. It is clear that he has been misled. His parents, teachers and elders have obviously not guided him properly.
I want to talk to the young man and engage him in an intellectual debate. He should write down all his objections to my work and sit with me. I would like him to come and meet me at my home in Mysore as I am now too old to travel to meet him. If he has facts to challenge my scholarship, I will be more than happy to change my position. But I am not going to stop my work just because he threatens to kill me.
I want to say this to the people who killed Prof Kalburgi, Govind Pansare and Narendra Dabholkar, and are now threatening to kill me: You can attack us and tear us to pieces but our works will live on. They can kill me but that won't change my stand.
They must also know that I am not scared of them. Threats are nothing new to people such as Prof Kalburgi and me. I was first threatened in 1985 when I released my book 'Shankaracharya and Reactionary Philosophy'. My research showed that far from being a social reformer, the Shankaracharya was a strong advocate of the caste system. By going through the text of his teachings in Sanskrit, I could prove that he was vehemently opposed to Dalits and women getting educated. The traditionalists and fundamentalists who threatened to kill me then never bothered to read my work or challenge me on facts.
My friendship with Prof Kalburgi goes back to those turbulent years of my life when I was dragged to the courts for blasphemy. Coincidentally, the same year Prof Kalburgi had submitted a major research paper where he found that Channabasavanna, the nephew of 12th century social reformer Basavanna, was adopted. He was under severe threat from Lingayat fundamentalists for whom Channabasavanna is a holy figure.
We met for the first time during that period at a conference. The moment Prof Kalburgi was introduced to me, he gave me a tight hug and said, "You and I are are sailing in the same boat." We both had a hearty laugh and remained close friends ever since.
My regard for him only grew with time. What attracted me to Prof Kalburgi was that he was not merely an armchair intellectual. He moved among the people and was forever sensitive to their suffering. He spoke about the most oppressed sections of society and was a voice of the voiceless. I loved him as a man of honour and as a scholar. His work will live long after all of us are dead and gone.