It is ironical that exactly a day after the murder of the anti-superstition activist Narendra Dabholkar in Pune, the Maharashtra government passed the Anti-Black Magic and Superstition ordinance, a bill that had been in the pipeline for 18 years. The force that had been responsible for keeping the bill afloat, despite threats and constraints from several interest groups, particularly the godmen and conmen, as well as Hindu hardliners and the proponents of political Hindutva, was the dauntless determination of the superstition slayer in Dabholkar, who edited the prestigious Marathi language magazine Sadhana and was a tireless champion of benevolent rationalism. In fact, barely two weeks ago, Dabholkar had criticised the Prithviraj Chavan government at a press conference in Pune for not tabling the draft legislation in the recently-concluded monsoon session of the state assembly, something he had been advocating since the late 1990s, overseeing the 29 amendments the bill went through since the time it was first written down. It is, therefore, not only unfortunate, but also deplorable, that Dabholkar was gunned down by unknown assailants on Tuesday in Pune as he was taking his daily morning walk, clearly testifying to the resurgence of irrationalism and belief in blind faith, thanks to the bevy of conmen masquerading as religious leaders or miracle workers and playing with the sentiments of millions of illiterate, and sometimes even literate, masses.
Dabholkar’s death not only drives home the malignancy of mixing personal beliefs in public life, but also underscores the prevalence of several dogmatic faith-based evils that end up harming the fabric of sociocultural life.
Dabholkar’s outstanding legacy will, nevertheless, live on, especially through the anti-superstition ordinance, which should soon become a law, if the Maharashtra cabinet shows enough gumption and braves the barrage of resistance that it is likely to face once again from the various interest groups that sell outdated quasi-religious notions to profiteer from gullible people. However, the now deceased editor of Sadhana magazine, whose ceaseless activism and the old world social democratic convictions had hel ped launch many a pro-people campaign in the face of grueling financial difficulties, and who had managed to celebrate 65 years of a publication devoted to first-class journalism that had not been diluted with commercial profit-only motives, will not be vindicated in his death if as a society, we do not embrace education and vow to eradicate illiteracy from the face of the nation.
Moreover, Dabholkar, the indefatigable social activist, had also been a vigorous advocate of anti-caste activism, organising campaigns to point out the malevolence of caste-based panchayats, or the perils of political Hindutva that went against the core of our Constitution-sanctioned secular make up. In addition, Dabholkar was not against religion per se, but against its certain political and social manifestations aimed at discriminating or marginalising sections of society. Hence, his flagship anti-superstition bill targeted particular practices of swamis, babas and other imposters who exploited vulnerable man and women to mint money by sleight of hand, and indulging in worthless rituals, thereby flatly negating any religious or spiritual benefits. Clearly, even in death, Dabholkar’s social reforms haven’t ended, though as a nation, we have shamed ourselves once again by slaughtering one of our best minds to pursue narrow ends of unimaginable bigotry.