NEW DELHI — Writers and intellectuals took to the streets Monday in the southern Indian state of Karnataka to protest the shooting death of prominent secular scholar Malleshappa Madivalappa Kalburgi, the third such killing in India since 2013.
Police said Kalburgi was shot at point-blank range Sunday morning when he answered the door of his home in Dharwad, a quiet town about 260 miles from Bangalore, the state’s capital. He was rushed to a nearby hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
Kalburgi, 77, was a former university vice chancellor and a noted scholar of literature in the Kannada language. Over the years, he angered right-wing Hindu groups and some within his own Lingayat Hindu caste with his views against idol worship and religious rituals.
The state provided him with a security guard after his comments about idol worship sparked right-wing anger in 2014 and his home was pelted with stones and bottles. But police said the guard was removed at his request about two weeks ago.
Karnataka’s chief minister, Siddaramaiah, who uses one name, said Monday that the state’s criminal investigation department would spearhead the inquiry into the case.
Police in Mangalore, meanwhile, filed threat charges against a leader of the Hindu group Bajrang Dal who had tweeted about the shooting: “Mock Hinduism and die dogs death.”
The leader, Bhuvith Shetty, later told the Hindustan Times newspaper that he had “vented” his anger “spontaneously.” He said that did not mean that he or people from his organization had killed Kalburgi.
Writers, intellectuals and friends gathered for Kalburgi’s funeral procession Monday in Dharwad, a place that has produced many renowned Kannada literary figures over the years. The event quickly morphed into a protest as the throngs chanted, “We want justice!” Other protests erupted throughout the state.
Members of Karnataka’s thriving community of intellectuals said Kalburgi’s death is likely to have a chilling effect on free speech.
“He was certainly not the most outspoken of intellectuals in Karnataka,” said Sugata Srinivasaraju, editorial director of Asiannet News Network in the state. “He was a man of integrity. He meant what he said, and he had a very clean record. He had no ambiguity about what he was speaking.”
In February, a social activist and leader of India’s Communist Party, Govind Pansare — whose views also had angered some right-wing Hindus — died after he was shot by gunmen on motorcycles while he was taking a morning walk in Kolhapur, a city in the western state of Maharashtra. He had just given a speech criticizing recent extremist moves to glorify the man who killed Indian freedom icon Mohandas “Mahatma” Gandhi.
Another scholar, Narendra Dabholkar, who had spoken out against superstition, which is rampant in India’s small towns and rural communities, was killed in 2013, also while out for a walk. Both crimes remain unsolved.