Will India learn from Dabholkar’s murder?

While our “scientific establishment” has made giant strides, scientific thinking still lags behind as science is being
practiced mostly as an instrument and not as a way of life

The brutal killing of Dr Narendra Dabholkar (20 August 2013) in Pune is a big jolt to the social movement against blind faith and superstitions. Inspired by his thoughts, Andh Shraddha Nirmoolan Samiti (Committee for Eradication of Blind Faith) was formed in Maharashtra and it became a powerful campaign for popular awareness under his leadership. There were those who were uncomfortable due to Dr Dabholkar’s work against blind faith and superstitions and so he started getting threats to his life. Before his death, he got several threats, one of which said that he would meet the same fate as that of Gandhi. After his killing Sanatan Prabhat, a Hindutva newspaper, which constantly spew venom against him, commented that “one gets what one deserves”.

The practitioners and supporters of blind faith, who know that their art is a hoax, were sure that their black magic can’t kill the pioneer of a rationalist movement, so they hired assassins to kill Dabholkar. He was recipient of regular abuses from the Hindutva organizations including Hindu Janjagruti Samiti. On their websites, they posted claims that they have exposed anti-Hindu conspiracy. In their publications they put across abuses for him in gay abandon.

Dabholakar strongly condemned the practices of blind faith and superstitions, promoted and practiced by babas and their ilk. Some of these practices like Karni, Bhanamati are the ones in which magical rites are performed in the name of supernatural power. Some other practices are like offering of ash, talisman, charms, etc., for the purpose of exorcism and to drive out evil spirits or ghosts.  The anti-superstition act which Dabholkar was campaigning for, which the government adopted after his assassination, makes such practices an offence. Just a reminder that when this act was first brought up for discussion in the Maharashtra Vidhan Sabha, the BJP–Shiv Sena combine strongly opposed the same. Dabholkar was critical of these irrational practices, and for this he was labelled to be anti-Hindu.

Apart from these upholders of politics in the name of Hindu religion, other conservatives were also against the activities carried out by his organization.

The battle between blind faith and rationalism is old enough. Reason believes in questioning the existing beliefs and to keep going beyond the prevalent knowledge. Faith, particularly the one constructed around the ‘institutions of religion’ begins with unquestioning subservience to the prevalent norms, beliefs and rituals.

There are many incidents in the history, where those who came up with rational thought were not killed but sometimes harassed to no end. We know the fate of Charvak in India, who questioned the supernatural authorities of Vedas. He was condemned and his writings were burnt. In Europe, Copernicus and Galileo’s plight at the hand of clergy is another chapter, while the scientists like Bruno and Servatus who argued that diseases are due to worldly reasons and not due to the wrath of God, were burnt alive by the machinations of clergy.

It took Dabholkar’s sacrifice for Maharashtra government to pass the bill against blind faith for which Daholkar was struggling for decades. He had collected data that it is women who are the biggest victims of those practicing black magic. He had been talking of launching a campaign against the highly rewarding trade of gems and their magical powers, in due course. Alas, that was not to be! Will other state governments follow suit and try to control the flourishing trade of blind faith, black magic and other such practices? Will the progressive social movement take up the cause of the victims of these abominable practices and take the society forward on the path of rational thought, rational culture and rational politics, away from the trappings of the faith-based blindness. While our “scientific establishment” has made giant strides, scientific thinking still lags behind as science is being practiced mostly as an instrument and not as a way of life. That’s how in many science and technology institutions, on Dussehra day, computers are worshipped with flowers and by putting vermillion on the forehead of the monitors! Can the sacrifice of Dabholar wake up our policy makers to such a serious lacuna in our teaching and practice of science? We seem to have liked the benefits of technology but have been undermining the scientific way of thought and practice, more so after the politics of nationalism has started wearing the cloak of religion.

Published in the October 2013 issue of the Forward Press magazine

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