• From Kalburgi to Gauri Lankesh: Silencing Rational Voices in Karnataka

    H S Anupama

    Translated from the original Kannada by Yogesh S

    September 7, 2017


    Images sourced from the Deccan Herald and The Hindu respectively; treated by ICF team

    The author of Kavirajamarga describes a period in Karnataka which was a time for Janapada – people’s words. We do not know whether the protesters were murdered, and whether, the people who asked questions were humiliated by rubbing coal and dung on their faces. But now, just like the language Kannada, Kannada Janapada is also under attack. A voice that studied the period of the author of Kavirajamarga was forcefully and permanently silenced. 

    Yes, M M Kalburgi, 77 years old, was shot dead in Dharwad on 30 August 2015. Kalburgi was “infamous” for his critical and rational views on Hindu-Lingayat-Veerashaiva belief and practices. His subjects of critique also included the gurus of the Veerashaiva mathas. He had accused them of being murderers of Basavanna. He was a rational and truthful researcher of the everyday life of the people of Karnataka. Hence, a critical voice was killed.

    Students, who came looking for him, shot him dead. Such attacks and murders were a reality of distant lands, but now, they are also a reality of Karnataka. Kalburgi’s murder has shocked the progressive and the rational population of the state. The literary world and the thinkers of our country came out on the streets to protest. G N Devy, Kannada Champa, six progressive and new poets, Udaya Prakash, a Hindi writer, along with many others, returned their awards and titles. Along with such protests, there were neutral reactions that criticised the attention that the murder was receiving, by calling it “too much”; some also felt uncomfortable by remembering the good relationship Kalburgi had shared with the brahminical mathas, trustees, and organisations. Whatever were their views, people remembered him; they were sad, and angry. 

    Blind believers of religion, who had not read a single word that Kalburgi had written, reacted in an obscene way by celebrating the murder in the Karavli region of Karnataka. According to them, they celebrated the murder of an enemy of their religion. Internet was flooded by such comments; and a list of writers and thinkers who are going to be killed next, also published. The list was called the hit list. The publishers of this list were arrested and were later released too. 

    A hit list on the internet? Yes. A tour of the internet gives a glimpse of the kind of extreme and fundamentalist reactions that the events in the national and international levels received. Internet now shows the mindset of the youth who know the internet; and also a medium which shows the hidden evil faces behind the masks of goodness. Media and the internet play an important role in creating an intolerant society. India has a community of trolls and its propagators, who attack every word of free thought. Just as any critical analysis of religion, god, caste, nation, and language is met with intolerance in the society, the internet has become a space that generates such intolerant behaviour. This community of trolls doesn’t let any peaceful and healthy discussion take place. Instead, it creates a violent atmosphere where the users are seen violently fighting. 

    This is the state in which every country and religion in the word is right now. We have not reached here out of nowhere. The legitimate political position that the religious fundamentalism has received is the reason for this. It has generated a mind that not only romanticises violence, but also accepts violence. It has not only manufactured the murderers of Kalburgi, but also the murderers of the ideas and thoughts of Perumal Murugan, Shirinn Dalvi, Vinayak Sen, Teesta, Sanjeev Bhat and other progressive thinkers. 

    It has been two years since Kalburgi was murdered. It was anticipated that he would be killed, as he propagated the dharma of Basavanna and Lingayat Dharma. He was infamous among the Sanatana Samstha, and the matha system. The same religion of Basavanna that he was propagating, has now taken the form of Lingayat, and is struggling for the constitutional recognition as the Lingayat religion. Against this backdrop, we can observe the following: 

    1) The murder of Kalburgi is still under investigation. Anyhow, it is an open secret that the advocates of anti-rational thoughts are the culprits. Linganna Satyampet, a contemporary, and a close associate of Kalburgi, who was known for his critique of mathas, was also murdered. Kalburgi was given police protection as he had received a few death threats. He was murdered as soon as he rejected police protection. He was a soft target for the fundamentalists. Even though there are numerous writers, thinkers and activists in Karnataka who have been actively critiquing the fundamentalists, Kalburgi became their target. The fact that Kalburgi was chosen, pushes us to examine the complexity of this case. It is usually the “critical insiders” – who stay within the system, and are critical about the system – who are under threat. The assassination of Gandhi – who claimed to be a Hindu, and was pointing out the loopholes in the religion – by a Hindu fundamentalist, is a good example. The system of violence chooses these “soft target” to generate fear in others.

    2) The times we are living in, are not as innocent as we assume them to be. Fundamentalism is successfully butchering rational voices emerging out of free speech and expression, which are also well thought through. Irrespective of age and experience, all of us are discussing freedom of expression; but, we have all failed to understand the mask of culture that the threat to freedom of expression has appropriated; and to recognise various faces of this threat. Even senior thinkers like Kalburgi are not an exception. Some thinkers seem to be more interested in the literature fests sponsored by capitalists. These literature festivals would not have any of the thinkers who are our very own. These festivals are also well known for utilising the names of thinkers participating in them, for their own use.

    3) Kalburgi’s murder is being protested and criticised in Dharwad and North-Karnataka regions. This protest in Dharwad is generating pressure on the authorities, demanding a rigorous investigation. Close and dear associates of Kalburgi, concerned with the current events and also assuming the responsibilities for future, have organised themselves and are fighting for justice. At the same time, there are a few nationalist thinkers, who claim that Indians are better off with freedom of expression when compared to other countries; and some also have/are accusing the intelligentsia in the country for constructing the notions of attack on freedom of expression. But, it is only those who propagate modern thoughts who know the reality. 

    4) Irrespective of what government is in power, and irrespective of how grave the crime is, we have seen the way a criminal belonging to the hegemonic community of the majority, is not brought out in light. The sniff dogs of the investigators stop at the city/ town circles, bus stands, and railway stations. It is a vast field of ignorance, confusion, and cluelessness from there onwards. These investigations drop us in the fields with wells, burrows, and caves to look for an ant. It is impossible. It is possible to find the whereabouts of the sharp shooters who killed Kalburgi; it is possible to get to the rowdies who hired the shooters; but it is impossible to get to the roots of these rowdies. Even if we do, it is not possible to take any action against them. It is very common for the investigations to end as soon as they reach a powerful and a famous name. It has been years since, Linganna Satyampet’s half naked body was found in a drain, Narendra Dabholkar was murdered, and Pansare was murdered, but we still have no clue about the whereabouts of the culprits. 

    The return of awards and titles by writers and thinkers has been successful in generating a pressure on the ongoing investigation. Most of such investigations are usually unsuccessful. It is only a strong retaliation, an organised and consistent protest that can guide us towards justice. Realising the need for such protest, various communities, irrespective of their differences, have come together to protest through various media. They have been demanding to identify the murderers, get to the root of this system of crime and killings, and pluck this system by its root. 

    Thoughts, questions, and opinions should be a response to thinking, questioning and curiosity, and not murder. Kalburgi strived hard in building, and nurturing various oranisations. The saying, “It is only the death of a devotee which introduces a devotee”, is proven by the fact that Kalburgi’s death has made the progressive communities alert and creative. Let no one rejoice the silence of Kalburgi.


    Human body is not immortal. Language is a part in the chain of life. Death of a writer is not just an absence of human life. It is the death of a conversation in a language. A writer is not just a person, a body, but he is a representative of a community which shares his thoughts. Writing provides words to the dumb, and becomes the sight of the blind.

    Valmiki calls Rama a model. A model is the one who can speak for the speechless and who becomes a mouthpiece for the pain of those who are voiceless. Writers too, are models. A researcher stands much ahead of a poet and a writer. A researcher has a responsibility to learn and teach history. Kalburgi was one of such researchers, whose death is a loss of a part of my life.

    My salutations to you are gleaned from the essence of life and the path of truth…

    Read the Kannada original here.


    Also read-

    On Gauri Lankesh:

    Writers, Academics Respond to Gauri Lankesh’s Murder: Nayantara Sahgal

    Writers, Academics Respond to Gauri Lankesh’s Murder: K Satchidanandan

    Writers, Academics Respond to Gauri Lankesh’s Murder: Anand Teltumbde

    Writers, Academics Respond to Gauri Lankesh’s Murder: Ananya Vajpeyi

    Statement by the Karnataka Komu Souharda Vedike (KKSV) on the Murder of Gauri Lankesh

    AIDWA Condemns the Heinous and Cold-blooded Murder of Gauri Lankesh

    “The murder of Gauri Lankesh follows on the heels of the murders of Narendra Dabholkar, Govind Pansare and M M Kalburgi…”

    Friends and Comrades Remember Gauri Lankesh

    They Cannot Silence Us All: Statement from the Indian Writers’ Forum

    On Kalburgi:

    They Feared His Words: A Tribute to M. M. Kalburgi

    Why are the Murderers of Dabholkar, Kalburgi and Pansare Still Absconding?

    “Are the murderers of Kalburgi not being nabbed because they’re from the Sanatan Sanstha?”: Keki Daruwalla

    H S Anupama is a doctor by profession. She finished her medical degree at Bellary Medical College. She has been running Jalaja General And Maternity Clinic at a small village in coastal Karnataka since 24 years. She works in collaboration with many women’s, dalit and democratic organisations. She runs a publishing house called “Kavi Prakashana” and is an ex-member of Kuvempu Bhasha Bharathi Pradhikara. 

    Yogesh S is a member of the editorial collective of the Indian Writers' Forum.

    Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are the writer's own, and do not necessarily represent the views of the Indian Writers' Forum.

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