NEW DELHI: Professor K S Bhagwan has been receiving threats from Hindu fundamentalists after fellow academic M M Kalburgi was shot dead at his residence. However, Bhagwan is not worried about his own safety, and determined to stand for what he believes.

In an exclusive interview to The Citizen reporter Vishal Narayan Professor Bhagwan said that he was not afraid. The gun cannot silence the freedom of speech. He said that he had been getting threats ever since he wrote a book on the Shankaracharya which is in its 18th edition now. Excerpts:

Question: You have been threatened by Bajrang Dal members since Kalburgi’s murder. You’re reactions.

Answer: This is nothing new to me. I have been receiving these threats for the last 35 years since I wrote the book ‘Shankaracharaya Mattu Pratigamithana’ which is in its 18th edition now. The book is about the 8th century sage Shankaracharya who in his interpretations of ‘Brahmasutra’ had advocated against the education of lower castes (shudras) and women and had also prescribed that if any lower caste man even gets to hear the Vedas by chance then molten lead be poured into his ears, and his body be sundered apart. People don’t know about these things, they don’t know that Shankaracharya was a most reactionary and an anti-people man. I have even invited my opponents for a discussion of the text many times but no-one ever agreed to it. His philosophy has been taught in universities and schools and has been spread through ‘Shankar-Maths’ for the last 1200 without ever acceding to the other point of view.

Q: Has your this work been challenged yet by any scholar?

A: Never.

Q: How far are you ready to go to defend your scholarship now that the threat has become so palpable?

A: Nobody can stop a man who thinks of the betterment of the people, for the freedom of speech of people. No gun can silence him. Great people in the past have fought against such opposition, people like Christ, Gandhi, BR Ambedkar, Socrates etc. They were never bogged down by any fear. Another 12th century rationalist Basavanna worked whole life for the uplifting of the poor; he too had to face confrontation.

Q: History is being re-written or bowdlerized these days. How detrimental is the practice?

A: It is detrimental to a grave extent. Indian history is full of life, lives of a great number of people. Historical facts should not be altered at any cost. It is a Hitlerian mentality. Fascists censored publications and changed historical facts in textbooks, which did a great injury to future. As, it is said: Facts are sacred. Comment is free. We must not change facts.

Q: How bad the situation is in Karnataka for academics who run opposite to the Hindu right?

A: There was a time when no such people could be heard or seen in Karnataka when personalities like Kannada Poet Laureate Kuvempu and Congress leader B Basavalingappa wielded prominence. Basavalingappa was a terror to fundamentalists. Now there is no such system, moreover, people have become emboldened by the center. Nothing legal is done against those who try to suppress the freedom of speech.

Q: Do you believe writers have a social responsibility?

A: Yes, they do. Every writer has a duty towards society, to give it something back along the lines of social justice, equality fraternity etc. Writers must uphold the tenet of freedom of speech. Freedom of a Prime Minister and that of a common man is same.

Q: In an interview you had stated that pages of Bhagavad Gita should be burned. What was all that about?

A: I still stand by it. There are sections in Bhagavad Gita which are against the principles of equality and fairness to all. In chapter 9 verse 32, 33 of the text, it is written that all working class people (shudras) are sinners and all women are sinners, which is not true. I would say Shri Krishna was a sinner because he had 16000 wives; I again invited people to have a discussion with me on this point but to no avail. And I don’t mean physical burning of the book, but a formal denunciation of the text, however, in the past BR Ambedkar and Periyar burned Manusmriti.

Q: Do you see any merit in blindly following religion as many do? Is religion in itself virtuous?

A: Not at all. I believe in the teaching of Vivekananda who had said that there is no secret in ‘yoga’ and you can reject it. Great philosopher Gautam Buddha had once told his disciples to examine everything that they come across and follow the path which is good not just to you but to whole humanity. Socrates said the same thing too. However, I rank Buddha above both Socrates and Jesus Christ, as Bertrand Russell did in his essay “Why I am Not a Christian”.