Kannada scholar MM Kalburgi was shot dead at his home in Dharwad on Sunday morning. According to Dharwad city police, two assailants rode up to Kalburgi’s house on a motorcycle and shot the scholar at close range in his head and chest when he answered the door. The identity of the assailants the motives behind the murder are unknown at this point.

Former vice-chacellor of the Kannada University in Hampi, Kalburgi had an illustrious and richly rewarded academic career. He won the National Sahitya Akademi award in 2006 for a collection of research articles called Marga 4. Ha had also been awarded the Karnataka State Sahitya Akademi Award, Kendra Sahitya Akademi Award, Janapad Award, Yakshagana Award, Pampa Award, Nrupatunga Award and Ranna Award.

The 77-year-old scholar often spoke up against blind belief and so was no stranger to controversy. In June last year, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Bajrang Dal in Dakshin Kannada accused Kalburgi of hurting the Hindu sentiments. Kalburgi had supported the late UR Ananthamurthy by saying, at a seminar about Karnataka’s Anti-superstition Bill, that there was nothing wrong in urinating on stone idols. Ananthamurthy himself drew the ire of Hindu groups when he recounted doing this in his childhood. The VHP and Bajrang Dal burnt effigies of Kalburgi and had demanded his immediate arrest.

One of the biggest controversies Kalburgi found himself in was back in 1989 over his first Marga treatise, a collection of papers on Kannada folklore and religion that included articles about Veerashiva saint Basava, his wife and sister. Kalburgi received death threats and had to recant references to the Veerashaiva founder Basava, his wife and his sister. At the time Kalburgi said in an interview that he recanted many years’ work tosave the lives of his family members. But, he said, he also committed intellectual suicide on that day.

Kalburgi was a champion of the Kannda language and was highly critical of the Karnataka government’s plans to shut down Kannada-medium schools.

Kalburgi’s murder is a reminiscent of the murders of rationalist Narendra Dabholkar in Pune in 2013 and social activist Govind Pansare in Kolhapur in February. Both men were shot at close range while on their morning walks.

Meanwhile, a tweet from an account belonging to the Bajrang Dal co-convener in Bantwal seemed to issue an open threat to other academics who allegedly hurt Hindu sentiments. The tweet and account were soon deleted.