Anti-superstition activist Narendra Dabholkar shot dead
Narendra Dabholkar, who campaigned against superstition in India for more than two decades, was shot dead in Pune on Tuesday, police said.
Dabholkar, 67, was a physician-turned-activist who openly criticised and questioned supernatural phenomena attributed to practitioners of black magic in India.
He was instrumental in drafting a new law in Maharashtra state that sought to target conmen who exploited superstitious beliefs, especially among the illiterate. The controversial bill is yet to be passed by the state assembly due to opposition from right-wing groups and political parties who fear the new law might curb religious freedom.
In his speeches, Dabholkar said his draft law was not against religion but against exploitative practices.
The poor in India often fall prey to self-styled religious ascetics who force them to organise religious rituals to appease the gods or wash away their sins. Some even demand sex with woman as a cure for infertility.
Dabholkar, who was also a journalist, founded the Andhashraddha Nirmulan Samiti (Committee for Eradication of Superstition) in 1989 in Pune, Maharashtra. He organised protests and rallies across the country and demanded the formation of a law targeting such practices. But right-wing political parties such as the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Shiv Sena, and other religious groups, are resisting the draft law that has been stuck for 13 years.
Dabholkar styled himself after India’s independence hero Mahatma Gandhi, wearing khadi (hand-spun cotton) shirts and living a simple life. He wrote extensively in Marathi and English newspapers and magazines, propagating rational thinking.
“Dabholkar’s assassination is shocking and surprising,” said Jaidev Dole, a journalism professor and a colleague at a Marathi magazine that Dabholkar edited.
“It’s clear that some extremist organisation is behind the killing as the proposed new law against superstitions is about to get approved,” Dole said.
Police said two gunmen on a bike shot Dabholkar four times when he was out for his daily morning walk.