Daily News & Analysis

Be watchful and disquiet!

Sanal Edamaruku

August 25 2013

Narendra Dabholkar

With Narendra Dabholkar, India has lost one of its finest rationalist leaders, I have lost a friend and a brother-in-arms, who has been a pillar of the movement in Maharashtra. His brutal murder made visible an explosive conflict seething under the surface of public attention. I think at least after the rationalist’s death people should open their eyes. Dabholkar was murdered because he stood up against superstition. But his enemies have not been common believers trying to defend their faith. On the contrary, the rationalist movement is enjoying great acceptance. Dabholkar was loved by the people and this is best reflected in the spontaneous outpouring of grief and anger in Maharashtra.

The conflict that has turned bloody here is the one between the rationalist movement and a powerful network of exploiters embedded in the Indian state and anchored in institutions. It is preying on people’s gullibility and fear. It is a network of charlatans in the garb of “holiness”, criminals, corrupt politicians and an irresponsible section of the media. It is spanning and tapping all religious communities and traditional superstitions. It is never Hinduism versus Islam or Christianity or religiosity versus rationalism as they try to make us believe. The wire pullers are pulling together and playing their victims against each other.

And we do attack these institutions. We are cutting the ground from under their feet. That is the mission of the rationalist movement. For example, the point of the And Dabholkar was to bring the work of godmen, tanktriks and astrologers to a stop. The politicians did their level best to dilute his bill and postpone its discussion in the state assembly for 18 years but Dabholkar did not give up. Due to his relentless efforts, the state finally had to introduce the bill, infuriating fundamentalist groups. This happened just e few days ago. It makes you wonder if it was the reason for Dabholkar’s murder - or at least the trigger.

Unfortunately, Dabholkar is no more. But his words continue to echo in our ears. He fought for almost two decades to pass the anti superstition bill. “This is possibly the only bill that figured in the assembly’s list of business for last seven continuous sessions, but has never come up for discussion", he had said recently. Dabholkar’s draft has over the yeas been diluted beyond recognition and it may end up being as useless a paper as the old Magic Remedies (Objectionable Advertisements) Act of 1954. However, at least it would establish that godmen and their likes could be punished for exploiting their victims with charms, rituals and magic. What we urgently need is a real, national anti-superstition bill, if we want to see our people come out of the hold of ignorance, backwardness, exploitation and meaningless suffering and step into a dignified and successful future, then we can’t back off now. We are in the midst of a great freedom struggle – India’s Second Freedom Struggle – and it is a do or die moment. There are is a chance that Narendra Dabholkar’s death will serve a wake-up call and that his determination and outrage will inspire India to take up the issue and march forward.