On some mornings when I drive my son to school, at most traffic intersections I see young men and women selling lemons and a green chilly tied to a string. I’ve never bought one and don’t intend to, but I see others around me, doing that and then tying it in the front of their cars under the chassis. I’ve always wondered how that can ward off evil. But then, I always think, it’s their beliefs, so who am I to judge them. But what if I had?

Isn’t that why Narendra Dabholkar, the founder president of the Maharashtra Andhshraddha Nirmoolan Samiti, was gunned down? Unlike me and many others, he fought against the ills of superstition, black magic, blind faith, and a lot else. He tried to change the way we think of these ills and paid for it with his life.

We live in a country where people worship anything that bears even a faint resemblance to Him, in his various forms. Over two decades ago, Ganesh idols began to ‘drink’ milk and suddenly everyone was feeding milk by the gallons to the idols. I am sure if Lord Ganesh, himself, had descended on Earth, he would have disapproved of the sheer wastage in his name. But do we dare protest against blind faith?

Remember the time we saw Ramayana (or Ramayan) and Mahabharat on television screens across the country? People would bathe, pray and sit with folded hands before and during the entire episode. These were celluloid characters created by a film maker who had a finger on the pulse of a myopic audience. I have nothing against such serials. By all means let’s watch it. Even I did, because for me, it was mythology brought on the screen and I enjoyed it. But I don’t think I ever took a shower before the serial.

Some of the actors who played leading roles in those serials even won elections because people thought they were voting for Ram and Sita who would deliver them from all evil, give them Ram Rajya. So many decades later the halos have disappeared and those actors have moved on. But as a nation, we are still where we were then – no Ram or Rajya in sight – only Sonia and Manmohan Raj, where petrol is 80 bucks, cooking gas is 400 and onions until recently was 80!

Then there was the film titled Jai Santoshi Maa, which ran to packed houses, where women of all ages danced, sang bhajans, distributed prasad and prayed loudly in theatres during the movie. The lady who played Santoshi Maa, became a household name and people touched her feet wherever she went. If nothing else, it really showed how intelligent we were.

When she was alive, and even after her death, there was a concerted movement by her well wishers to canonise Mother Teresa. There is no denying the fact that the Mother along with her Missionaries of Charity has done tremendous work for the poor, the dying and the downtrodden, first in Kolkata and then all over the country and the world. I believe the jury is still out on this one.

However, while faith, rightly or wrongly, may motivate millions, there is another segment of people, that believes, the only way to stifle opposition or dissent is with blows or bullets. Sadly, it is our leaders who refuse to discourage these things, for fear of a backlash. The Maharashtra Prevention and Eradication of Human Sacrifice and Other Inhuman, Evil and Aghori Practices and Black Magic Bill, has been stalled by politicians in the State Assembly for many years. It is vote-bank politics at its worst.

Some ministers have been gunning for the Maharashtra Andhashraddha Nirmoolan Samiti, which has been spearheading the movement against these ills. Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan has promised to get the bill passed. Let’s see when that will happen. One hopes it will be before another Narendra Dabholkar is felled by the gun of another intolerant Indian.

  1. My dear Sinha,

    The assassination of Narendra Dabholkar is not just a sign of intolerance. It is part of the overall political attempt to stifle criticism of religion.

    The late Dabholkar was my dear friend and close comrade since 1983, when both he and I were part of mass movements which campaigned at the grass-root level to bring science and scientific thinking closer to the common people.

    Dabholkar encouraged common people to ask rational questions, which is the essence of democracy. But religion demands faith and opposes the asking of questions. This is at the heart of the opposition to the late Dabholkar and the Andhashraddha Nirmoolan Samiti (Committee for the Eradication of Superstition and Blind Faith).

    No politician in power likes the citizen-voter to ask questions, think rationally and demand answers. Here Dabholkar was working effectively at the grass-roots to enourage people to ask questions. It is a measure of how effective the ANS is today, that Dabholkar became a serious threat to persons who use religion for political ends as well as allow and encourage religion in the public and social sphere.

    Peace and love,
    – Joe.

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