Founder

Dr. Narendra Dabholkar

Editor

Prabhakar Nanawaty

Suman Oak

Dr. Narendra Dabholkar: A Pragmatic Rationalist

The emotional dust due to killing of Dr. Narendra Dabholkar raised might have settled down by this time. It is high time now that we look at him with a rational approach and recapitulate his achievements in the changed circumstances. Of course, we know that he is not there to answer if we raise a question nor will he be able to defend his action even if we don’t agree with it. All the same we might look objectively look at his struggles and efforts to change the mind set of the contemporary Marathi society.

The whole of Maharashtra (as well as the whole world by this time!) knew him as a founder of Maharashtra Andhashraddha Nirmulan Samiti (Superstition Eradication Committee) – ANiS in short – which is quite active right from its inception in 1989 under his leadership. He conceptualized this organisation to eradicate prevailing superstitions in the society, inculcate scientific temperament and fight for social justice and mindset and all sorts of exploitation. However superstition remained at the centre of his mind and all other things became secondary as far as he was concerned.

In fact since his college days he was interested and involved himself in the movements of social change. After obtaining his medical degree he practiced medicine for some time. However he was inclined towards social activities rather than a career in medical profession. With the support of his family he participated actively in movements like Samajvadi Yuvak  Dal, Yuvak Kranti Dal, Samata Andolan and Baba Adhav’s Ek Gao Ek Panhvatha, which aimed at opening the source of  drinking water of all villages to all irrespective of caste, creed or gender.

Somewhere in 80s, Pune Branch of Peoples Science Movement invited B Premanand, ‘a wandering rationalist’ for a lecture cum demonstration of ‘miracles’ in Pune. Dr. Dabholkar was quite impressed with the demo. He and his friends in Pune decided to conduct similar demos in and around Pune. In fact like any other easy chair rationalist he too could have written an article or discussed with friends over a cup of coffee and continued his medical practice like any other medico. But that was not so. There was some spark which made him to take plunge into such a movement. With his excellent communication skill he was requested to shoulder the responsibilities of coordinator of the movement for next two years. In 1989, the flexible set up which  Dr. Dabholkar was heading which became and known  as Maharashtra Andhashraddha Nirmoolan Samiti (ANiS) and they intentionally chose to work in Marathi speaking areas. In no time Dr. Dabholkar became the working president as the activities spread in 17-18 branches. And today ANiS has more than 200 branches all over Maharashtra, Goa and some in Karnataka too.

As a visionary, he was very clear in his mind about the organisation that he was led. ANiS under his leadership was not just a passing phase of voluntary workers’ whim and fancy. He shaped the organisation in such a way that the activists would lead a good and fruitful life while they continued to be ANiS activists and even after they leave it. In that way we may call him as ‘Trainers Trainer’ since many activists who are no more actively working for ANiS, are working in various progressive movements benefiting those organisations with basic skills obtained during their stint in ANiS.

Lookwise he was just like any other person on the road. As Johannes Quack, a researcher and author of the book Disenchanting India puts; “Usually dressed in an ordinary kurta or sometimes plain shirt, he has short grey hair, outmoded glasses, and an ever-so- slightly hunched posture. Dr. Dabholkar is not a person to draw attention based on his looks. Yet, the moment he begins talking, his earnest engagement draws one in to listen closely. He appears reserved but his assertive and authoritative manner lends his arguments a deliberate and persuasive aura.”

ANiS

Andhashraddha Nirmoolan Samiti (ANiS) had started functioning from 1989 to eradicate prevailing superstitions in Marathi speaking areas of Maharashtra, Karnataka and Goa. At present it has more than 200 units spread over 35 districts of Maharashtra and a few individuals in Goa and Karnataka.

Right from the beginning Dr. Dabholkar laid down its objectives as

1.         To oppose harmful superstitions, which exploit and defraud people

2.         To cultivate scientific attitude, skepticism, humanism and critical thinking among the people

3.         To encourage constructive and critical analysis of religious traditions and customs

4.         To get connected with, and support larger social reform movements

On analysing these objectives one would realize that to implement them, one at a time and that too  partially we need four huge separate organisations just to inculcate the basic principles superficially in the society. However with his organisational skill Dr. Dabholkar was able to influence younger generation and impress upon them that this is the right path one should have. He was never tired of what he was doing. In his own words “I am blessed with some rare abilities, such as, organising work, keeping cool, perseverance, enviable health and ability to travel and work continuously without rest. Of course, age counts and the picture will eventually change. But I will try my best to remain alert and active.”

He had seen to it that the organisational structure, setup and working of ANiS are genuinely and intentionally democratic and decentralized. When asked about why youth join this organisation Dr. Dabholkar said that more important than anything else, is the fact that the volunteers join the  organisation because of their intrinsic motivation; they feel suffocated in the superstition ridden surroundings and do not know how to face it. They find a true enlightened path in Samiti’s work. So strengthening the organisation and spreading it becomes their internal need. They strive to protect the organisation from petty quarrels, caste biases and penury.

While talking about ANiS he expressed that “The strength of our work lies not in its thinking and philosophical stand but in its day to day activities and the various innovative plans and programmes it organizes. The programmes are of course carried out by all workers together; but I participate in all of them personally and carefully watch them. Samiti has systematically devised a method of detecting the incidents of Bhanamati, discovering their origins and causes, giving psychological support to the persons who cause them and finally putting an end to the fearful occurrences. Samiti has successfully tackled and stopped 250 incidents of Bhanamati without a single failure. In hundreds of confrontations against the godmen, our activists have put their lives at stake and compelled the godmen to wind up their business. The Dakin custom prevailing in the Adivasi areas -where an unlucky woman is accused of causing all the ills that occur in the village and branded Dakin, is harassed and at times killed- is caused by superstition and vested interests. Samiti began a movement against this evil, three years back, in Nandurbar District. At that time some people’s movements, NGOs working in that area, administration all were convinced that the Dakin Custom is so deeply rooted in the minds of the Adivasis that confronting it will provoke their wrath. Samiti did not deter from its goal and initiated a movement against this cruel custom. It has reached a stage now where it can confidently spread this movement to ten other Adivasi areas in Maharashtra.”

“The challenge to miracle mongering godmen to perform miracle under scientific conditions, initially was one lakh rupees. This amount is steadily increasing. The prize money of ten lakh rupees that I received last year for “Best Activist of the Decade” awarded by the Maharashtra Foundation of USA, is added to this fund. The sum now stands at 21 lakh. Along with direct confrontations, Samiti undertakes many other movements so that people can be mentally prepared to accept change. I fully and wholeheartedly participated in all such movements. One movement ”Shodh bhutaacha, Bodh manacha” (searching for the ghost, enlightening the mind) was conducted in the Konkan area. Four groups performed, in all 167 programmes and we reached 3 lakh people through them. Another movement was ”Chamatkaar Satyashodhan Yatra” challenging all godmen to perform miracle under scientific conditions. The Yatra (pilgrimage) covered whole of Maharashtra twice. In Goa, Belgaon, and Konkan area ”Sarpa Yatra” was conducted to educate people regarding snakes and first aid for snakebites and to remove their superstitions regarding snakes. The Bhanamati in Marathwada is of a different type. There the afflicted women huff and puff and bark like dogs. At times many women together start huffing and puffing and barking. In the unbearably hot month of May, we literally combed whole of Marathwada in 8 groups performing 250 programmes to attack this menace of Bhanamati. We could not put a full stop to it but the number of incidents has reduced greatly.”

If we look back at 25 years that have passed since inception of ANiS, Dr. Dabholkar and his associates never lost vision they aimed at and in the course of time had confrontations with the society. In fact the society for which Dr. Dabholkar was working appears to be very progressive from outside but is very conservative at its core. Dr. Dabholkar was sure that the superstitions arising from one’s ignorance or illiteracy can be eradicated very easily once reasoning and trickery behind them are explained. But he had to face so called ‘literates’ who insisted that the traditions and rituals are very good for the health of the society since these have benefited the societies in Vedic period. He was aware of this and used to express his dissatisfaction in these words, “In treading this path, I avoid reacting to criticism, entering the clamor of accusations and counter accusations and the blame game. I refrain from taking legal action for defamation against anybody. I do not want to embroil the organisation with lawsuits. I do not know whether I am right but one thing is sure that avoiding to react never puts you to any loss. When one builds up his image in people’s minds through such a long march it becomes immune to petty accusations.”

Cults

In addition to these proponents of the past history,  there were various cults which were arising like mushrooms all over Maharashtra and defrauding the gullible with false myths and sorcery.

Take for example, the sudden fame of Parvati Ma. This was a clear case of mental slavery of naïve people. Parvati Ma was an old lady of 70 years (though she claimed that her age is 110 years and she had some after death experience!) hailing from Taloja village in Bhavanagar district of Gujarat. She claimed that she had a healing touch through which she can bless a childless couple with a child  just by tenderly moving her hand over the stomach of the woman desirous of a child. In fact she never demanded any money for her ‘therapy’ except advising the patient to take a spoonful of mixture containing sugar candy powder, milk and cardamom for 30 days. Within no time her miraculous power became news of the town and childless couples from all over Maharashtra and Gujarat were standing in queue  in her village for her blessings. No one had time to think that there may be some hidden motive or fraudulent behaviour behind this. While giving the so called miraculous mixture, the relatives of Parvati Ma used to advise the woman, ” you behave as though you are pregnant; you need not go to doctor to confirm this; and go to him only for delivery and medical check,  once child is born. And lastly if you don’t conceive for next three months you should visit once again.”

This advice itself exposes Ma’s mal-intentions.  In fact the beneficiary of this miracle may not be Parvati Ma herself but the middlemen and transport people. Jeep loads of people from far off villages will throng at that place enhancing transporters’ and local hotel business. During that period you would find at least one couple per village who was blessed by Parvati Ma. When ANiS started an agitation against her, there was a lot of opposition. Her shrewd supporters   were spreading wild theories in support of her miraculous power. No one bothered to ascertain the reasons behind infertility of any couple. ANiS   explained the theory and biological facts regarding conception and pregnancy to people and discouraged them from  going to this fraudulent woman. . However after Parvati Ma’s death all this was subsided.

Another lady, Anuradhabai Deshmukh, claimed that when she begins to worship her god she receives holy ash and Rudraksha (the berry of a tree dear to lord Shiva) in her hands from nowhere. ANIS held demonstrations against her asking her either to prove her claim or stop pretending of her supernatural powers. Finally Anuradhabai had to put a stop to this drama as she realized that it was not possible to deceive people any more.

ANiS had carried a long struggle against Narendra Maharaj of Nanij. So the district superintendent prohibited his tour in the Sindhudurga District. Narendra Maharaj has published a book describing the miracles he has performed. Samiti representatives went to Nanij, debated with him face to face and finally compelled him to reveal the truth that ‘he cannot perform any miracles.’ Thereupon his infuriated disciples kidnapped the activists and took them to Pimpri Chinchwad and beat them mercilessly. At Vita Narendra Maharaj goaded people to cut off hands and feet of Dr.Narendra Dabholkar and Dr. N.D. Patil. Bhanudas Gaikwad is a common citizen of Baramati, who claims that he has  incarnated himself into ‘Gōd Baba’ (Baba making all that he touches sweet). He claimed to have acquired this miraculous ‘sweet touch’ by the grace of his deity – the Dutta Bhagavan. It took a long struggle of challenges and counter-challenges for ANiS to expose Gōd Baba’s pretence and stop his business of cheating people.

Aslam Baba began his Buvabaji at Sholapur, claiming to operate on patients with his bare hands and curing them of their ailments of all sorts. He used to dispense his own medicines too to the patients. ANiS complained to the police against his immoral practice and he had to flee from Sholapur. He then went to Bagalkot in Karnataka and started his business of exploiting people there. ANiS chased him into Karnataka and made strong complaints against him. Aslam Baba had to run away from there too.

In Kolhapur district Gurava brothers started treating all ailments of the eye with just two drops of a liquid. Thousands of people gathered at their residence, every day and were treated by these brothers. ANiS exposed this fraud and put a stop to it. One more Baba claimed that he puts a ‘Pharashi’ (a piece of slate) on the patient’s head and thereby diagnose his illness and treat it. He tried to open his clinics all over Maharashtra but ANiS put a stop to his ambition. Todkar Maharaj from Kolhapur, a lustful man was fond of dallying with ladies of character under the guise of medical treatment. Ironically he called himself a devotee of the deity Hanuman famous for his abstinence from sexual commerce. ANiS on receiving a number of complaints from his victims, exposed this Baba and compelled the police to arrest him. People were so angry with him that while he was being led by the police, they beat him with their chappals.

There are literally innumerable cases of struggle against Buvabaji. In some cases ANiS could not directly fight against the Buvas but it did expose their true character by publicizing intelligence collected with great difficulty about them. It has revealed the true nature of the big shots among the spiritual Baba-Buvas- viz. Asarambapu, Bhagawan Rajaneesh, Aniruddha Bapu, etc. and institutions like Prajapita Brahma Kumari and Sanatan Bharateeya Sanstha,  risking the life of its activists. This struggle seemingly an awakening and reformation movement is, in fact, a real battle and a very long drawn and agonizing one at that. When we started fighting against the Sanatan Sanstha they launched many court cases against the Samiti in different courts of law, demanding a sum of 14 crore as damages. This is just to give the reader an idea as to what the Samiti has to go through because of this struggle.

There are many other cases which cannot be called ‘Buvabaji’ but are other  ways of exploiting gullible people. Worship called ‘Narayan Nagabali’  that people are made to undertake to overcome difficulties in life or the propaganda that no robbery can occur at ‘Shani Shinganapur’ because of the influence of the deity there, are some examples of this type of exploitation. Spending crores of tax payers’ money on ‘Sinhastha Gathering’ that is held every 12 years is one more example of exploitation. ANIS has been constantly awakening people against all such malpractices.

All the above cases reveal that Dr. Dabholkar directed the activists for open confrontation with the disciples of Babas – Buvas without losing temperament and resorting to violent methods. He convinced the general public and media about the fraudulent behaviour of concerned cult figures by arranging lectures, meetings and demonstrations. It was necessary to fight against superstition whether public likes it or not. It was a sort of social experiment and method to gauge the acceptability of his organisation. In fact he was least interested in the outcome or the result. The process itself gave necessary feedback and made the society to look further. There were many unsatisfied souls who used to raise doubts about the confrontations against particular person or accepted age old tradition. However Dr. Dabhokar looked at these things quite differently and tried to expose the frauds or waist of money, time and energy. He knew his and ANIS’s limitations and strength. Except for a few exceptions he never crossed the border which he himself had set and never put any of his activists’ in a fix.

Like any other firebrand organisation ANiS too could have turned into a  fire fighting organisation which would have looked for any superstitious and rushed to the spot and made headlines in the media. As a responsible leader Dr. Dabholkar refused to imagine ANiS an organisation concentrating only on negative aspects. If possible he would suggest alternate methods to whatever they   practice adopting   scientific attitude enshrined in our constitution.

Scientific Attitude

ANiS aimed to cultivate scientific attitude among people. As a part of this activity ANiS conducted various programs of training, miracle demonstrations etc. To inculcate scientific knowledge to primary and secondary school students, ANiS had formulated a syllabus on the various aspects of superstitions which prevail because of lack of preliminary scientific knowledge. The syllabus formulated for training included all aspects of superstition and also the preliminary knowledge of sex education. In fact there are many misunderstandings when boys and girls enter the age of puberty. The suppressed curiosity at this age stunts the mental growth of the child. As such ANiS arranged for doctors who explain the facts regarding sex.  Dabholkar’s large network of sympathisers was willing to undertake this task voluntarily and enthusiastically.

He also realised that it is the youth which needs to be encouraged to participate in ANiS activities in large numbers.  In the earlier days his lectures used to be mostly in colleges. The students adored him and he was a sort of celebrity for them. Once they join ANiS he expected them to take oath not to accept dowry; or take drugs, but lead a simple life. His advice used to be ‘don’t work out of obligation to the society; don’t carry any such burden on your head, just enjoy your work. Work only as long as you derive satisfaction out of it.’

You will find thousands and thousands of youth who had filled the forms of oath while they were in colleges in Maharashtra.  He would encourage them to establish a debating forum, Vivek Vahini, in college premises with the permission of their principals. He personally used to write to those principals and vice chancellors for granting permission t for this activity. No principal would refuse   such a fruitful activity. Some times these students might not be directly related to ANiS. But he called them Vivek Saathi.  These were the social experiments which Dr. Dabholkar was very much interested in so as  to expand his organisation and get new recruits. In fact he considered a superstitious person as mentally sick one. These sick people need a constant counselling which no doctor is willing to give and no patient is able to afford the hospitalisation for so called  ‘trivial disease’.  He wanted youth to come forward and become Manas Mitra to such ‘patients’. He had all sympathy for superstitious person and never passed any sarcastic remarks on their behaviour. According to him eradication of superstition is possible at two levels; one by enlightenment and other by confrontation both at individual and society levels.

Dr. Dabholkar believed that unless you inculcate Reasoning right from childhood or at least during school days, wrong notions about superstition would take hold of   the mind and would be very difficult to erase afterwards. As such the best harbingers of this message would be the teachers who need to be taught about the ill effects of superstitions and positive effects of scientific attitude. Keeping this in view, ANiS has been consistently conducting training camps for developing scientific attitude amongst Primary and Secondary teachers for the last 20 years, with the co-operation of Maharashtra Government and head masters and principals of schools. Contents of the course used to be scientific outlook, faith and superstition, mind and mental illnesses, possession by ghosts, possession by deity, astrology, rituals, morality, secularism, philosophical stand against Buvabaji, overcoming addiction, scientific knowledge of snakes, etc.

Campaigns

Campaigns against various aspects of superstitions coupled with enlightenment of the audience  were the major attractions for activists as well as public.  While campaigning against superstitions Dr. Dabholkar would always plan them as though they were mega events. Such campaigns attracted the attention of   Marathi media.  For example, when All India Congregation of Astrologers was organized in Satara,  ANiS made it a point to ask the organizers one question every day regarding astrology. The organizers could not answer even a single question. Thereafter ANiS activists publicly made a bonfire of their own horoscopes which were supposed to be the road map of their own future as predicted by astrology and which they refuted totally.

When the UGC consented to introduce Astrology as ‘Jyotirvidnyan’ (the science of astrology) – a subject for graduation in the universities, a powerful movement to protest against and stop this retrograde step was launched. In 2004 a statewide conference was held to oppose the same at Dhule. It is well known that several tests have been conducted in other countries to ascertain whether astrology is a science. But the first such test was carried out in India by the Samiti under the guidance of the eminent scientist Dr. Jayant Narlikar of the IUCAA in Pune in co-operation with the Department of Statistics, PuneUniversity. In this test, a number of astrologers were given the date and time of birth of 100 intelligent children who always stood first in their class and date and time of birth of another hundred very slow children. The astrologers were required to make horoscopes for all these children and decide which horoscopes belong to the intelligent ones and which to the slow ones. Astrology as a science, totally failed in this test.

Vaastushastra became a fad of newly rich. It is but natural that a householder wishes to build a house that is safe, convenient and gives him comfort. However to expect this house to bring him luck is certainly a superstition. And to knock down walls, doors, windows and other parts of a built up house in order to convert it into a ‘lucky’ house is utter nonsense. But the so called Vastu-scientists maintain that whether a particular house will bring fortune to the owner is decided by the shape of the plot, construction of the building, its interior decoration, etc.; they also are cheeky enough to suggest changes in the construction so as to transform the unlucky house into a lucky one. All this was contradictory to scientific outlook. ANiS is engaged in a continuous struggle against this unscientific Vaastushastra and enlightening people regarding its baseless theories.

ANiS had published a Scientific Manifesto on Vastushastra under the signature of the eminent scientist Dr. Jayant Narlikar. In most of the districts of Maharashtra, gatherings of Architects and builders were arranged in connection with the manifesto. ANiS declared its willingness to occupy and stay for long periods in any building that was declared ‘unlucky’ for the occupant. ANiS is constantly contesting the elitist superstitions of Vastushastra, Feng shui, etc.

There used to be campaigns for searching for incidents of ghosts-possession, elimination of Bhanamati, Public Protest against Miracles; Eradication of Superstition and campaign against the custom of Dakin. Activists used to enlighten the public about the legacy of social reformers and nationalists.

The modus operandi of these campaigns were;  a team of activists would accompany the vehicles containing the demo and poster material and go from village to village in the affected areas, arrange lecture cum demo cum exhibitions so that the gathering would get educated about the campaigns. Sometimes the campaign would end with a seminar attended by experts on the subject, celebrities and at times even politicians. There were many sympathizers who were willing to participate in such seminars. Dr. Dabholkar was never hesitant to call any of them to address the gathering.  In fact once Dr Lagoo jokingly mentioned that “we are bonded laborers of Dr. Dabholkar!” He used to plan the function very minutely and make alternate arrangements in advance in case something goes wrong.   ANiS used to become news of the town wherever the team traveled. In fact some critics blame ANiS for being publicity hungry. Dr. Dabholkar was aware of this criticism and he defended it in following words:

“We get considerable publicity and people think we hanker for it. But I always remind my co-activists that an organisation can rarely remain in the public eye for such a long time; and we should be prepared for being ignored eventually. Our work is publicized for three reasons. First the activities for eradication of superstition are intrinsically newsworthy. Secondly people and the media in Maharashtra believe that our activists are honest. The third reason, I must  admit is that we maintain proper relations with the media, take care to give them correct and honest accounts of our activities in time. Whenever any incident connected with Eradication of Superstition occurs I write a report on it and most of the main news papers immediately publish it.”

Science at Door Steps

To instill scientific attitude among students Dr. Dabholkar planned to take science at their door steps through  Vidnyan Bodh Vahini. It was a sort of mobile science laboratory. Instead of conducting science experiments prescribed in the school curriculum this lab talks about scientific attitude through experiments, lectures, posters and exhibitions.  This was a novel experiment of the ANiS. The Samiti equipped the vehicle with a number of teaching aids to inculcate scientific outlook amongst students in rural areas and residential schools in the tribal areas This self contained vehicle along with a couple of activists go to  remote areas, showing cinemas, selling books, and providing a platform for executing many other programmes. Many village schools and tribal residential schools of about 15 districts in Maharashtra benefited from this facility.

The mobile planetarium was one more idea through which the astronomical aspects were taught. This project enabled students, away from the cities, to watch the night sky in a semi-spherical dome during daytime. A knowledgeable ANiS activist instructs and initiates young students into astronomy in a very interesting manner.

Dr. Dabholkar had literally delivered thousands of lectures during his life time. He had a very good sense of timing within which he will conclude his lecture. He would never miss a point and make audience to sit attentively. He along with Dr Sriram Lagoo used to conduct a mock debate called Vivek Jagar (Awakening of Reason). As an atheist Dr Lagoo would take extreme view about the existence of God and used to say “retire the god from the life”. Though Dr. Dabholkar also was an atheist, he and ANiS had taken the stand that they will be neutral about this aspect. He has to run an organisation and he can’t afford to displease a large chunk of the masses that believe in god and perform all that has been taught by the religion. In the debate he would in mellow statements and convince the public that ANiS do not interfere with the belief in God and only oppose the superstitions practiced due to ignorance. This assures the public that ANiS is not opposed to God or religion as long as it is not exploiting the gullible. In fact it is difficult to distinguish between trust, faith, belief, conviction, disbelief, blind belief, superstition etc.

Environmental Friendly Celebrations

Being neutral does not mean not to criticize or point out the bad aspects of religious traditions and rituals. ANiS took this liberty and wherever possible criticized the religious traditions and also offered the alternatives to them. Immersion of Ganapati idols in the flowing water was one of the bones of contention between ANiS and their opponents. The POP used for making these idols and synthetic paint used for decoration were harmful when they dissolved in water. The toxic effect may harm the health of the villagers if they drink polluted water. ANiS suggested that instead of using the flowing water for immersion we use old unused stone quarries or abandoned wells or even temporary water tanks to immerse and then safely dispose them without hurting the sentiments of the believers. ANiS showed how this can be done and majority of the public agreed to what ANiS had to say. In fact Supreme Court also ordered local Govt bodies not to pollute rivers and make alternate arrangements for immersion. This gave a tremendous boost to ANiS who was opposing the pollution on the ground of environmental protection. A rationalist   could have insisted on not having   Ganapati idol at all. But Dr. Dabholkar did not resort to such an extreme step.

Dr. Dabholkar insisted on participation of women in eradication of superstitions, since they are the carriers of superstitions from generation to generation and implant these superstitions on their offspring, knowingly or unknowingly. He in fact arranged a statewide conference bringing out all aspects of superstitions preserved by women. A manifesto was published. Noted women reformists joined with ANiS, discussed and formulated further line of action.

During Holi festival some communities in Maharashtra offer sweet pancakes to God and throw them in the Holi fire instead of offering them to poor. This was a sort of extravagance of the rich which would deprive poor from eating. ANiS took up this issue and appealed to the devotees to donate the food instead of throwing it in the fire so that we can offer it to poor people. There was a very good response to this appeal and ANiS still continues with this activity. ANiS found that huge amount is being spent on purchase of firecrackers during Diwali under the pretext that kids enjoy this. In fact bursting of firecrackers pollutes the air and creates noise pollution. Dr. Dabholkar took up this issue and ANiS activists visited the schools and convinced the students about the ill effects of firecrackers. The students in turn took oath that they will not spend money on crackers. This was a very encouraging sign. Let us hope that this practice of bursting of crackers will end soon.

Why only Hindus?

This was one question invariably audience used to ask in any of his lectures. Though the superstitions are there in almost all the religions, one has to start from some point and as such  ANiS chose to concentrate on superstitions in Hindu religion. In this context he once argued in this way: “Let us for a moment assume that the ANiS works for (eradication of superstitions only amongst) the Hindus. But the important issue here is– whether the work undertaken by ANiS is good; whether it is desirable and whether it is beneficial to the society. ANiS is confident that their work is appropriate, desirable and essential. What is more interesting is that the Hinduists themselves agree that this work ought to be done. And yet they ask why eradicate only Hindu superstitions? The confusion in their mind is clearly seen when they ask this question. Superstition is like the lumber and litter in the house. Let us assume for a moment that our nation is a ten room-house. So the religion with 82% population will have 8 rooms. Islam with 12 to 13 % population will get one room. The remaining one room will go non-Hindu, non-Muslim population. Now, if the ANiS, at its own cost, undertakes cleaning 8 out of these ten rooms of the house, the major part of the house will, obviously, be free of garbage. Under such circumstances if one takes the stand that unless the ‘9th’ room is cleaned we will not allow anyone to touch the first 8 rooms, it means that this individual is either insane or he does not want that people of the first 8 rooms are freed of the garbage and can bring in a change for the better. Eradication of superstitions is undoubtedly in the interest of the Hindus; and to oppose it is being hostile to people. Those who oppose ANiS, harbor a ridiculously wrong notion that the Hindus after getting rid of all their superstitions will have no guts; while the superstitious Muslims will remain hardened fanatics. The Hindu-Muslim conflict being inescapable in this country the hardened fanatic Muslims will easily defeat the gutless Hindus whenever skirmishes take place. One only needs to pity those who proffer such flimsy, deceptive arguments. “

Anti-Superstition Law

Enactment of anti – superstition law proved to be his weak point. He never expected that the draft prepared by eminent personalities from judiciary and police department would face such a stiff opposition from elected representatives of Maharashtra. The problem with MLAs and others was that no one would oppose the law openly but while voting they would find one or the other pretext to postpone passing the bill.  Since Dr. Dabholkar had tremendous patience and perseverance to overcome the obstacles laid down by people with vested interest, it reached the table of the assembly in the last session. He tried almost all non violent and peaceful methods like, sending thousands of letters, sending letters by eminent people, Dharana Andolan, sending an appeal written in their own blood, slapping one’s own face, Jail Bharo Andolan etc. It almost took 18 years to obtain a promise from Chief Minister that the Bill will be tabled in the next session in Dec 2013. His untimely death forced the cabinet to pass it as an ordinance; otherwise it would have taken many more years to get it enacted. The parties in power were not politically and socially committed to it. If and when passed this will be the first law of its kind in India and will publicly and legally proclaim which customs can be called superstition.

In order to avoid any dispute about faith and superstition, erupting in the Court of Law, special provision is made in the law defining superstition. 12 items listed in the Schedule are to be considered superstition. They are Dakin, Jadutona (black magic), Mantra-Tantra, etc. that openly exploit gullible people. This law is the first of its kind in India. If a person is convicted of the crime committed under this law, he will be sentenced to hard labour in prison from 6 months to 7 years. In order to avoid any dispute on the law, all words like god, fate, religion, faith and superstition are totally avoided.

In one way he took a pragmatic approach by reducing number of items in schedule keeping in mind that let it pass the hurdle of democratic set up. As a true sociologist he knew that law will take its own course during actual implementation In that way he was strategic planner too. As a sociologist one should feel the pulse of the masses and take decisions in accordance with it.

Rapport with Progressive Organisations

Dr. Dabholkar was very particular about ANiS’ involvement with other progressive organisations like Narmada Bachao Andolan, Rashtra Sewa Dal, Stree Mukti Sanghatana etc. He invariably allowed personalities like Anna Hazare, Medha Patkar, etc using ANiS platform to express their views. This rapport benefited ANiS activists tremendously.

Besides ANiS, Dr. Dabholkar was involved in Sadhana Trust and he was the editor of Sadhana weekly till his death. He was also secretary of  Samajik Krutadnyata Nidhi which distributes remuneration to full time needy volunteers working with organisations. He also was involved in running a De-Addiction Centre, Parivartan, at Satara. He relentlessly worked for all these organisations and devoted time for their functioning too.

One aspect of Scientific Outlook is Reason. Reason tells us what is good and what is bad. Not the fear or love of god but reason engenders morality in man. The philosophy of eradicating superstition develops a secular outlook and leads man to be fearless and moral.

Faith emanates from religious beliefs. The Indian Constitution has accepted faith in god and religious faith as a fundamental right of the citizen. An individual is free to observe rituals of the religion of his choice. ANiS has no quarrel with this. All that ANiS insists on is that the believers should also respect the right of those who criticize religion on the basis of truth. Here one has to remember that the history of human progress is the history of examining religion.

The Samiti begins its work with eradication of superstitions regarding godmen, ghosts, Bhanamati and miracles and progresses to engendering rational outlook in self as well as in society. One gets committed to this outlook, as one consistently does enough physical exercise, eats properly, makes regular reading a habit and keeps away from addictions of all sorts. These and some other behavior patterns constitute criteria of personal rationality. On the other hand, to bring about any change in the society, it is necessary to instill righteousness, obeying laws, setting ethical aims and adopting ethical means to achieve them, insisting on peaceful and democratic practice and resisting violence. Thus the thought that initiated eradication of superstition, develops gradually and ultimately leads towards strengthening democracy and change in values of life of individuals.

The above paragraphs sum up what was in Dabholkar’s mind and what he planned for ANiS. It was a sort of never ending journey on which he and ANiS intended to walk relentlessly. But this journey came to an end abruptly on 20 Aug 2013 the day on which two killers intentionally shot four bullets at point blank range and as a result Dr. Dabholkar collapsed.

One of our senior activists expressed her sorrow in these words:

“How dangerous it is to be too good!”

How true!

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