Prominent Indian rationalist who waged war on superstition dies after being shot by assassins

A MAN who dedicated his life to exposing fraudulent “god men” who prey on the poor in India was shot dead yesterday just days after the Government said it was planning to introduce a controversial anti-superstition law he was championing

Narendra Dabholkar

Narendra Dabholkar

Narendra Dabholkar, 71, was attacked by two gunmen on motorbikes while he was taking his morning walk and shot dead in the city of Pune.

He was known for founding the Committee for the Eradication of Blind Faith more than 20 years ago.

Critics accused him of being anti-religion in a country where mysticism and spirituality is venerated.

But in an interview with the Agence France-Presse news agency two years ago he rejected such charges.

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. This is about fraudulent and exploitative practices.

Dabholkar and his committee (Maharashtra Andhashraddha Nirmoolan Samiti) was particularly well-known for openly criticising some of India’s so-called “godmen”, the self-styled Hindu ascetics who claim to perform miracles and are revered by many. He also campaigned against animal sacrifices used in certain rituals.

The chief minister of Maharashtra state expressed his grief at the murder and announced a reward for any information.

According to this report, Dabholkar trained to be a doctor and could have led a different life. But he chose to lead a movement for the last 25 years that fought superstitious practices garbed as customs, traditions and religious beliefs.

His crusade won him many admirers, but also many detractors, who variously accused him of being “anti-religion” and some even “anti-Hindu.” Undeterred, Narendra Dabholkar continued to battle against the industry of babas and godmen that thrives not just in India’s interiors but also in many cities, feeding on fear and superstition.

Dabholkar was a simple man. He always wore a khadi shirt, cotton pants and chappals or slippers, which lay scattered beside his body as he bled to death near the Omkareshwar Bridge in Pune.

He did not criticise any religion, but tried to rationalise and expose those who exploit people using superstition and rituals as their tools of trade. He advocated inter-caste marriages and fought caste panchayat diktats that prohibit marriages outside one’s caste or community.

Dabholkar wanted his his organs be donated but the violent nature of his death has thwarted his wish. His killing necessitated a post-mortem at Pune’s Sassoon hospital. There were no religious rituals and last rites were performed in Satara, 120 km from Pune, where he belonged.

Top government functionaries, including Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan and Home Minister RR Patil, attended the funeral despite the fact that they hadn’t given him much attention when he asked for a law against propagating superstition.

Hat tip: Trevor Blake

18 responses to “Prominent Indian rationalist who waged war on superstition dies after being shot by assassins”

  1. Broga says:

    Tragic. He seemed one of the best examples of humanity and therefore had to be destroyed. I’m reminded of W.B. Yeats great poem “The Second Coming”:

    The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
    The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
    The best lack all conviction, while the worst
    Are full of passionate intensity.

  2. Ged Warren says:


    Nice choice – you are a scholar!

  3. L.Long says:

    Well I can guess when they will find the killers…never.
    As many will see this a good thing to have this ‘satan’ dead.
    Intelligence is most rewarded by death and hate, look at any of the older mythic tales. The brave dimwit knight killing everyone is the hero and the wise knowing wizard is demonized.
    And here we have a wise wizard fighting the criminal con-men(priest that demonize him), and is then killed by 2 ‘knights’ riding by.
    Sad and common.

  4. Angela_K says:

    Dabholkar was a small fish swimming against a tide of sharks, his good works will be missed and India and the World the poorer for it.

    His death, as the death of others who have the courage to expose the charlatans and religious frauds clearly shows, is a reminder of the savagery committed by the woo merchants to protect their business.

  5. Franclin says:

    When Religion-fascists run out of arguments, then they fall-back on murder as political tool, one of the main-power-tools of fascism.

    Narendra Dabholkar; you shall be remembered as a Saint & Martyr for human freedom & Humanity.

    We Humanists need to build a free-army to defend ourselves against Religionist-fascists.

  6. Thoreau says:

    Most of these ‘God men’ pay gangsters astronomical sums in protection money and, in return, they make problems go away.

    Look at Sai Baba – a known paedophile and conman, implicated in at least two murders and who forbid followers from reading negative news stories about him. He ‘pulled a Saville’ and got away with it, exploiting until the day he died.

    And there are British citizens who would use violence on you for saying this in their presence, even though You Tube has various films showing how he pulled off his rudimentary magic tricks. We’re talking about shit like ‘pulling a coin from behind your ear’ type sleight of hand hokum.

    Baba Ramdev actually has a shop in Leicester selling all sorts of garbage to the gullible. Imagine, just off a main road with a Barclays Bank, a Subway, a Sainsbury’s and what have you. 21st century and fuck knows what, cheek by jowl.

    Not a nice man

  7. barriejohn says:

    Thoreau: This is the most depressing thing about Ramdev.

    January 2007 – Honorary Doctorate, by Kalinga Institute of Industrial Technology, Bhubaneswar, in recognition of his efforts to popularize the Vedic system/science of Yoga.

    March 2010 – Honored with Degree of Doctorate of Sciences by Amity University, Noida, Uttar Pradesh.

    April 2010 – Honored with honorary degree of Doctor of Science by Dr D. Y. Patil Deemed University, Pune, Maharashtra.

    January 2011 – Honored with Sri Chandrashekharendra Saraswati National Eminence Award by Maharashtra Governor K. Shankaranarayanan.

  8. Angela_K says:

    @Barriejohn. Note how Ramdev’s Degrees are all honourary, he didn’t have to spend 3 or more years in higher education to learn a subject properly so could hardly be considered academic. Also note that non of these awards are from a decent a University such as Cambridge, Oxford, MIT etc.

  9. barriejohn says:

    Angela: That was my point. The same with Pat Robertson, who failed his bar exam, but is now the holder of multiple honorary doctorates. You have to blame the idiots who, for reasons best known to themselves, suck up to these vile people.

  10. barriejohn says:

    PS I meant to say that Pat Robertson was now the holder of multiple honorary doctorates of LAW.

  11. Thoreau says:

    Hmm… institutions sucking up to wildly popular figures by doling out gongs? Why, it’s almost like an effortless way of buying into their cache or bathing in the reflected glory and getting free publicity and prestige amongst the wider public!

    Gee whizz.

  12. Thoreau says:

    Was thinking about honorary degrees and remembered that Robert Mugabe has 7 degrees, each of them acquired the conventional way and two of these were by distance learning when in prison.

    Don’t know what I’m driving at – something about how you can be a monumental twat however you get your post-nominals.

  13. Broga says:

    When Ian Paisley was a regular irritant of the BBC they would ingratiate themselves by calling him “Dr” Paisley three times in every sentence. And didn’t he just love that. I think he got his doctorate from the Bob Jones University – an infamous centre of religious bullshit. Still functioning and spreading its malignancy, I suppose.

  14. barriejohn says:

    Honorary degrees should be treated as just that. No one talks about Dr Mick Jagger or Dr Paul McCartney!

  15. barriejohn says:

    PS Brian May has a “real” doctorate, as well as two honorary ones, but you don’t see them continually referring to him as “Dr May” as they do with the religiots.

  16. Pradip Rawat says:

    Dr. Narendra Dabholkar’s contribution to Indian society can be aptly described by this Jerry Coyne quote

    We’re in a war not for science, but against superstition, which enables nonscientific views.

  17. […] the case. My own family is not enthused by this battle. But they support me, if reluctantly. Ever since the murder of [Indian rationalist] Dr Dabholkar, they have asked me to keep them informed of my whereabouts at all times. I am not scared but have […]