Devotees walk past an idol of the Hindu monkey god Hanuman on the banks of Godavari River in Nashik, India, on Aug. 26, 2015
Danish Siddiqui—Reuters
By Sania Farooqui / New Delhi
August 31, 2015

An outspoken Indian rationalist scholar and college professor who had drawn the ire of religious groups for denouncing superstition and idol worship was shot dead by two unidentified assailants at his home in the southern state of Karnataka over the weekend.

M.M. Kalburgi, who was 77 years old, was killed when he was visited by two young men at his residence in the small town of Dharward early on Sunday morning. One of the visitors waited on a motorcycle while the other went up to ring the doorbell, the Indian Express reports, citing eyewitness accounts of the killing. When Kalburgi’s wife appeared at the door, the visitor asked for Kalburgi claiming to be one of his students. “Dr. Kalburgi’s wife left the youth in the hall of the house with her husband and went to the kitchen, when she heard shots fired,” police told the newspaper. The assailants then fled on the motorbike.

While the motive remains unclear, Kalburgi had in the past received threats to his life after criticizing idol worship as a “meaningless ritual” during a seminar in 2014. Angering right-wing Hindu groups, he also said that “one can even urinate on idols,” the Telegraph reports.

“There was a threat to my father from groups that couldn’t digest his views on caste and communalism. The role of these groups should be probed,” Kalburgi’s daughter Roopadarshi told the Hindustan Times newspaper.

Kalburgi’s killing has led to comparisons with the 2013 murder of Narendra Dabholkar, a former doctor turned campaigner against superstition who was shot dead by unidentified motorcycle-borne assailants while out on a morning walk in Pune in the western state of Maharashtra. More recently, in February 2015, a veteran communist leader and rationalist called Govind Pansare was killed in similar circumstances in the same state.

Reacting to Kalburgi’s killing, Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah, the state’s top elected official, acknowledged that there had been threats to the slain professor’s life. “It is true that there was threat to Professor Kalburgi’s life from some groups,” he told the Hindustan Times. “No effort will be spared to find the killers.”

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