Indians tend to be proud that our nation is not like Pakistan where Shia and Christian minorities are killed by Sunni extremists or like Bangladesh where atheistic bloggers are hacked to death by fundamentalists. It turns out, we can no longer gloat.
It is not the scale of the killing that matters but the existence of the genus of like-minded hate that is present and thriving in India that should disturb us.
Kannada scholar MM Kalburgi was shot dead by unidentified men at his home in Dharwad, Karnataka, on Sunday.
He is the third public figure opposed to Right-wing groups to be gunned down in the last two years, after rationalist Narendra Dabholkar in August 2013 and social reformer and CPI leader Govind Pansare in February.
They were against superstition and casteist beliefs, preached social equality and were committed to alternative interpretations of history. The three faced threats from extremists groups before being snuffed out.
What is even more appalling is that Bhuvith Shetty, a co-convenor of the Bajrang Dal in Bantwal, Karnataka, welcomed Kalburgi’s killing in a tweet saying “then it was UR Anantamoorty and now its MM Kalburgi. Mock Hinduism and die a dogs death” — and then went to threaten writer KS Bhagawan saying “you are next”.
The NDA government at the Centre and all state governments must reckon with the enormity of losing these luminaries who were tirelessly working for social progress and the public good.
According to writer Shivanand Kanavi, Kalburgi taught thousands of students about the nuances of 9th century Kannada poetics and the radicalism of 12th century Vachana literature; he published four volumes of his own research work, edited several volumes of other writers and ensured that seven volumes of world history written in Persian by a scribe in the 18th century Adilshahi court of Bijapur were translated into Kannada.
He was an institution who has been extinguished presumably by a bunch of lumpens who could not contend with his intellect. The assassination of Kalburgi, Pansare and Dabholkar underlines the serious threat to liberal freedoms that we now face.
It is a challenge to the authority of the State, which must prove that it can protect our freedoms and diversity and impose the rule of law.