Narendra Dabholkar: a political murder
A strong stream of liberal thought runs through Maharashtra. But opposed to this is a stream of fascist politics. Political murders have been a common action plan of these backward-moving parties. Murders of politicians like Gandhi, Krishna Desai, Dutta Samant have recurred over decades. More recently there has been a spate of murders of social activists. Yesterday’s headline news from IBN Live is one among these:
Leading anti-superstition activist Dr Narendra Dabholkar was shot dead in Pune on Tuesday morning. Dabholkar was shot dead while on a morning walk near the Omkareshwar temple.
Dabholkar was the editor of a weekly titled Sadhana. Initial reports suggest that four rounds were fired and he succumbed to bullet injuries in the Sassoon Hospital. The post-mortem report is awaited.
Pune Police Commissioner Gulabrao Pol, who confirmed Dabholkar’s death, said police were investigating the motive but no suspects have so far been identified. Dabholkar spearheaded the “Andhashraddha Nirmulan Samiti” (Anti-Superstition movement) to change social mindset and inculcate scientific temper.
TOI reports that the view that Dabholkar’s murder is part of a long struggle for the soul of Maharashtra, indeed of India, is widely held:
“Remember Gandhi. Remember what we did to him,” was probably the last threat noted rationalist Narendra Dabholkar received from right-wing organizations opposed to the Maharashtra (eradication of black magic) bill. Dabholkar’s Andrashradda Nirmulan Samiti (ANS) has been campaigning for the passage of the bill, which has been pending for 14 years now.
“This is shocking,” veteran activist Vilas Wagh said. “Pune, which boasts of the rational tradition of Mahatma Jyotiba Phule, has witnessed violence against rationalistic individuals even in the past. It’s a cause for concern that fundamentalism has reached a level where people aren’t even being allowed to air their views.”
The mention of Gandhi and Phule in this context is revealing.
Narendra Dabholkar himself was an inspiring figure, although little known outside of Maharashtra. DNA has a short obituary:
A rationalist to the core Dr Narendra Achyut Dabholkar was born on November 1, 1945. He gave his life for fighting against all kinds of superstitions and also worked in a constructive way to create scientific temper within the society. He has penned more than a dozen books and had been editor of the Marathi Weekly Sadhana for 16 years. He founded Andhashraddha Nirmoolan Samiti which was the first of its kind organisation in India. Later named as Maharashtra Andhashraddha Nirmoolan Samiti, it has 180 branches in the state.
Born in a family of progressive parents, Dabholkar was one among seven brothers and was introduced to the progressive movement during his encounter with the Rashtra Seva Dal. After medical practise for a few years he decided to work full time as a social worker and worked against superstitions in society for the last 25 years.
Dabholkar completed his MBBS from Pune’s BJ Medical college and was an accomplished Kabaddi player during his college days. He was a National player and was selected in Indian team which played Kabaddi Test Match against Bangla Desh. He was a Shiv Chhatrapati award winner for Kabaddi after winning the Shiv Chhatrapati Yuva award and becoming the first player to achieve this fate.
Dabholkar launched Samajik Krutadnyata Nidhi which meant raising a fund for expressing gratitude towards those who have worked selflessly for society. Dabholkar was the secretary of this Nidhi right from the inception and noted theatre and film artistes like Dr Shriram Lagoo, Sadashiv Amrapurkar and Nilu Phule had chipped in for this activity.
Dabholkar had challenged the astrologers asking them to prove that it is a science. Dabholkar along with internationally acclaimed astrophysicist Jayant Narlikar had challenged astrologers by giving a questionnaire to them. Dabholkar and Narlikar had challenged astrologers to identify as to whether the Kundli can reveal that a person is mentally retarded and a few other questions which astrologers could not accept.
Dabholkar, known for his campaigns to promote progressive and scientific thought, had for several years been lobbying for Maharashtra state’s parliament to pass legislation banning superstition and black magic.
Two years ago, in an interview with AFP, he rejected critics’ charges that the bill was anti-religion.
“In the whole of the bill, there’s not a single word about God or religion. Nothing like that. The Indian constitution allows freedom of worship and nobody can take that away,” he said.
“This is about fraudulent and exploitative practices,” he said.
Elswhere, DNA reported:
There was a strong opposition from Hindu extremists organisations and Warkaris to the bill, but Dabholkar was determined to get the bill passed and he stated that he was not against anybody’s faith, but was against superstition.
Dabholkar had recently started a campaign against Jat Panchayat and had held a workshop at Nashik against Jat Panchayat.
Dabholkar was also campaigning against immersion of idols in water bodies. He appealed to the devotees to immerse idols in water tanks rather than in rivers to protect the water bodies from being polluted.
A short sentence from a report in the Hindu is inspiring in its belief in a civil society, democratic order and the rule of law:
His family said he received threats often but refused to ask for police protection. “He thought this was a struggle to end ignorance, and he did not need weapons to fight it,” said his son.