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