Five years ago today, the rationalist Narendra Dabholkar was shot dead in Pune. Dabholkar was a well-known anti-superstition activist in Maharashtra, and a prolific writer in Marathi, though little of his work is available outside the state. This year, a compilation of Dabholkar’s writings that was originally published as a Marathi book Timiratuni Tejakade in 2010, will be released as a two-volume series in English by the publishing house Context. The book has been translated by Suman Oak, a long-time associate of Dabholkar who worked with him closely at the Maharashtra Andhashraddha Nirmoolan Samiti, referred to in the book as ANiS, an anti-superstition organisation that the late rationalist founded in 1989.
On 18 August, the Central Bureau of Investigation detained a former Shiv Sena corporator Shrikant Pangarkar, in relation to Dabholkar’s murder. The past year has also seen Hindutva outfits such as the Sanatan Sanstha come under scrutiny in relation to the murder of the journalist Gauri Lankesh, and their links to the assassination of Dabholkar. In the following extract from the first volume of the translation, titled The Case for Reason: Understanding the Anti-superstition Movement, Dabholkar recounts the pressures he faced from religious organisations, such as the Hindu Janajagruti Samiti and Sanatan Sanstha, as well as by members of the BJP and Shiv Sena.
For some reason or the other, various adversaries keep targeting me for attacks. Narendra Maharaja is one such person. He has a reason to hate me. In one of his interviews he had mentioned, “Eradication of superstition is not the task of the likes of Narendra Dabholkar and ND Patil and their foreign bookish science. These great men are in the business of eradicating our Indian culture itself under the name of eradication of superstition. They target only Hindus. They are out to destroy the lofty religiosity of our Indian culture. What they do under the guise of eradication of superstition is nothing but an attack on people’s religiosity. If people follow Dabholkar, they will become irreligious, leading to shameless licentiousness. Narendra Dabholkar is corrupting the society.”
This was not all. In his sermon, Narendra Maharaj instigated his devotees to “break the limbs of Dabholkar and ND Patil” and at Shirala he accused us of being hired by Christian missionaries to destroy Hindu religion, and of eradicating faith instead of superstition; the latter being his constant complaint against us. When journalists asked me to respond to these comments, I said, “Oh god of Narendra Maharaj, please pardon him for he does not know of what he speaks.” In response to the threats he issues, I was advised to seek police protection since I am often alone, especially during odd hours of the night, and secondly, to keep a licensed pistol with me. But these kinds of safeguards will negate the very essence of the movement. For a long time, I have been involved in drafting a law to prohibit black magic and superstition. At one stage, Sham Manav raised an objection regarding the draft of the law. Taking advantage of this, the Hindu Janajagaran Samiti sent a press note to all newspapers saying: “Dr Dabholkar, the heretic who is grievously deceiving the government and the populace should be ousted from the committee for the law on eradication of superstition. PB Sawant, the retired Supreme Court justice, has opined that the draft of the law earlier made by the working president of Maharashtra ANiS, Dr Dabholkar, and sent to the then governor for his consent can label many of our customs and traditions, like Satyanarayan Puja fasts, as criminal acts. This was disclosed by Sham Manav at ‘Matoshri’ when he met with Uddhav Thackeray to discuss this subject. This makes it clear that Dr Dabholkar’s claim that this law is not about religion, nor detrimental to any religion, is dishonest and misleads both the government and the people. Under such circumstances, it is improper to invite Dr Dabholkar to any meetings regarding the law and a proper inquiry should be made to investigate into the matter. He should be barred from attending any other meetings too. We, the Hindu Janajagruti Samiti, submitted this plea to the government on 28 November. In order to expose the real face of Dr Dabholkar, we request you to publish this appeal in your journal.”
In 2006, the Maharashtra Foundation of USA awarded me a prize worth Rs 10 lakhs with a citation of “Best Social Worker.” I went to the US to accept this award. The Sanatan Sanstha in its daily Sanatan Prabhat printed on their front page a banner headline spread over eight columns. It read, “Condemnation of Maharashtra Foundation of USA for giving an award to the infidel Dr Narendra Dabholkar.” The news item further said, “The Maharashtra Foundation of America, an institute that does not respect the sentiments of Hindus, has declared the ‘Best Social Activist of the Decade’ award to Dr Dabholkar, the working president of the anti-religious Maharashtra Andhashraddha Nirmoolan Samiti. The award ceremony will be held at New Jersey at the annual gathering of the Maharashtra Foundation.” After this came an appeal in bold script, “Giving this award to Dr Dabholkar, who is trying his best to enact the anti-religious law against superstition, is rubbing salt on the injuries caused to the Hindus. Dr Dabholkar and his ANiS criticise Hindu religion and the saints of Maharashtra, a state that has a long tradition of saints. O Hindus, condemn the Maharashtra Foundation of USA and do not allow them to give away this award to Dr Dabholkar who assaults your religious sensitivities.” This report was accompanied by the email IDs and postal addresses of Sunita Dhumale, President, Maharashtra Foundation; Sunil Deshmukh, chief of the awards jury and a group of young members of the foundation. Emails protesting the giving of the award to me had reached the US before I did. It is another matter altogether that the emails congratulating me for winning the award far exceeded those protesting it. The award ceremony went off very well indeed.