KOLKATA, INDIA - Police in India have detained three people in connection with last weekend's killing of a professor whose writings against idol worship had angered some religious groups.
The three detainees are activists who belong to right-wing Hindu militant group Bajrang Dal and its offshoots, said Om Prakash, police chief of the southern Indian state of Karnataka.
"We are not sure if any of the three men has directly been involved with the killing," he said. "They threatened those who criticized Hindu practices. The three men are being interrogated by police for possible leads to the latest killing."
Hindu groups have denied any role in the killing of 77-year-old Malleshappa Madivalappa Kalburgi. The former university vice chancellor and winner of several literary awards was shot to death Sunday by two unknown gunmen after they visited his home in Dharwad, 400 kilometers, or 249 miles, north of Bangalore.
"We were offended the way Professor Kalburgi ridiculed Hindu practices and we protested against it. We wanted him to face a boycott in the society," Ramesh Kulkarni, a Karnataka state secretary of the right-wing Hindu national group Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP), told journalists.
"I guarantee that no Hindu group was involved with this killing."
Hinduism critics threatened
Those who question idol worship and superstition – known as "rationalists" – have come under increasing pressure from Hindu extremists. There have been comparisons between Kalburgi's killing and the deaths of two others with similar views.
In 2013, unknown gunmen killed anti-superstition activist Narendra Dabholkar, 67, in Maharashtra city, Pune. In February, anti-superstition activist and communist leader Govind Pansare, 81, was shot dead by unknown attackers in Maharashtra’s Kolhapur.
As a Kannada University professor in Karnataka, Kalburgi regularly spoke against superstitions and idol worship in Hinduism. Last year, a Hindu activist from VHP filed a complaint against him for offending “religious sentiments.”
Dharwad’s police chief, Ravindra Prasad, said authorities are trying to determine if there is a link among the killings.
Bangladesh bloggers parallels
Some observers such as social activist Siddhartha Mukherjee have drawn parallels between the killings of the Hindu critics in India and the killings of critics of Islam in Bangladesh.
"The secular rationalists who protest against militant Hinduism are being killed exactly in the style the secular bloggers are being killed in Bangladesh,” said Mukherjee.
Bangladesh’s government has come under criticism for not doing enough to protect secular bloggers, after four writers were hacked to death in the past year.
Mukherjee also said Hindu extremists have made more threats online following Kalburgi’s killing, leading to worries that more rationalists in India will be attacked for their views.