From Darkness to Light

Dr. Narendra Dabholkar

I must have authored about a dozen books on different aspects of the movement ‘Eradication of Superstition’ by now. I am also fortunate enough to have received a large audience calling for publication of several editions of each book, at times over even a dozen; I wrote on this subject in the newspapers and gave thousands of speeches on it. All that I want to point out here through all these details is that I have been speaking and working to eradicate superstition to engender Scientific Outlook and propagate rationalism- for the last 25 years and yet I felt obliged to write this book. I must explain why.

As I progressed through discussions, movements, thinking and deliberations on this subject my comprehension of it ripened. I became aware that an orderly exposition of this subject has not so far been attempted by my predecessors. Many social reformers have written on various aspects of it which were more often topical, related to issues of their time. In one or two books of mine, already published, I did attempt such an organized, logical exposition; but it seems quite inadequate to day. The movement of eradication of superstition has many aspects and many dimensions. And with all humility, I think that no other movement as multidimensional and multifaceted as the movement of ‘Eradication of Superstition’ exists in Maharashtra or even anywhere else in the country. One of the obstacles that the students and workers of this movement have to face is the absence of a logical and properly organized exposition on it. This book attempts to remove that obstacle. It will naturally repeat some arguments from my previous writings but it will, I hope, offer the reader a proper comprehensive and philosophical perspective of the subject.

The book is divided into three parts. The first part is directly related to issues regarding ‘Eradication of Superstition’. The second part is about all the vigorous struggles that the ‘Andhashraddha Nirmoolan Samiti’ (ANS) has to carry out. They give a strong basis of actual work to the theoretical reasoning. Far too many struggles regarding various aspects of the movement have been waged but only a few could be mentioned here because of the limitation on the number of pages in a book. Again, since I am the author of the book, issues related to me have found a place in this part. Even this list is long enough; therefore only one or two incidents from each area are narrated. When read together they give an idea of the vastness of the movement. The third part pertains to the theoretical basis of the movement. It deals with all the matters regarding ‘Andhashraddha Nirmoolan’ that are constantly discussed.

Accordingly, the first part contains a comprehensive discourse on Scientific Outlook, Astrology Tested Scientifically, Ancient Architecture of the Scriptures-a Blind Faith, Pseudoscience, Mind and Mental Illness, Being Possessed by  Ghost, Possessed by a Deity, Hypnotism, Bhanamati and God men. Also discussed is the issue often raised ‘does ANS eradicate superstitions of the Hindus only.’

In the second part you will find the Story of Sahibjadi, Miracle of Karam Ali Darvesh, Miracle of Langar, God Baba (the sweet god man) and  Daivi Upachar of Kushira (treatment by religious rites). It narrates the humiliation of a Mantrik who boasted of being able to show a ghost. ANS challenges every miracle whenever and wherever it is claimed. Three different issues handled by the Samiti will enable the reader to understand all aspects of this problem. These three stories are-

  • The process of exposing the miracle claimed to be performed in the temple of the so-called ‘Jagrit’ deity, (the deity in the full exercise of its divinity) in the Sidhudurga district;
  • Confronting Narendra Maharaj in his own monastery at Nanij and exposing all his miracles through a blunt one on one debate;
  • On 21st September 1995, all of a sudden the idols of Ganesh started drinking milk all over the country and even abroad. This is the story of how this fraud was exposed. Then there is a letter written to the Chief Minister of Maharashtra, Shri Vilasrao Deshmukh, a Satya Sai Baba devotee, informing him why I do not wish to accept the Award for the Best Publisher at his hands.

Mental illness is of two types.  One is to indulge in what is called Bhanamati causing nuisance. The Big Bhanamati of a small girl is an interesting and elucidating tale. Considering oneself to be the incarnation of the Queen of Zashi is an example of the second type- a serious case of disorder of the mind and shows the relation between mental disorder and mental illness. To fight ‘Fatalism’, a programme called –‘Incineration of Fatalism’- was arranged.  ANS workers set on fire their own Horoscopes. A movement conducted to oppose the introduction of Astrology as a subject of study in the curriculum at the University level is mentioned in this part. Similarly there is an account of how ANS exposed the latest fad called ‘Vastushastra’. This will give a new insight to the reader. Critique of religion is the real test of efficacy of the movement like the ANS. At Shani Shinganapur women are not allowed to climb the platform where the deity is located even today. When ANS offered Satyagraha against this ban, there was a huge commotion. This reveals how sensitive the field wherein ANS works is.

Existence of god is a much argued topic with the rationalist movements. Some rationalists maintain that eradication of superstitions is not possible unless the concept of god is refuted. ANS adopts a different stand in this connection. Lively debates on ‘awakening the faculty of discernment –Vivek Jagar’- are often held and are an important part of the ANS’ action plan.  ANS’ plan of action has two more dimensions. There are a few organizations that are bent on obstructing the work of ANS on some pretext or other. The ‘Sanatan Bharateeya Sanstha’ has launched 14 personal lawsuits against me. This is described in somewhat details to reveal what a person conducting a movement like ANS has to go through. There are other organizations that hold a contrary view. They call themselves friends of the movement at conceptual level and accuse it for not criticizing Brahmanical rites and rituals or Brahmin godmen. The reason for this as assumed by them is that I, Narendra Dobholkar, the leader of ANS is a Brahmin.  And the work that ANS does is in fact a part of a Brahminacal plot to deceive the gullible common people at large. This accusation is made time and again.  I have put before the readers the plain facts in connection of this accusation. All this cogitation provides a concrete basis of positive action to our theoretical position and is put before the people explicitly. Actions are supported by the organization and the overall evaluation of the whole organization decides how important the thought process is. The building up of the Maharashtra ANS is peculiar in many ways. The passage, ‘What is the Source of All This’ takes note of these peculiar qualities. 

 The third part is theoretical proposition. It is expected to be thought provoking. Rationalists have indulged in endless scholarly discussions on issues like god, religion, spirituality, secularism, etc. all over the world that involves plenty of heterodoxy. Here I attempt to express the thought that developed out of the experience I gathered from the movement and out my own reflection. I do not claim this to be the official manifesto of ANS. All that I maintain is that members of the ANS working committee are weighing it up. This much I can claim because I have already written on some of the topics, dealt with here, in the annual issue of ‘Varta Patra’, the ANS monthly magazine; and most of the ANS activists seem to agree with my position. The discussion on how to comprehend the concept of god and how to evaluate the role played by religion in the Human History, to my mind, moves ANS forward. The same can be said about my exposition on ‘Faith, Superstition’ and ‘Cognizing Spirituality’. The topic ‘Social Reformers of Maharashtra’ is vast. I. therefore, chose to speak here only on that aspect of the work of the major social reformers that deals with Rationalism and Eradication of Superstition. These social Reformers of Maharashtra have opined on issues as diverse as from education to agriculture and from governance to Technology. It has even affected, to some extent, the psyche of Maharashtra. But the Maharashtrian society, wittingly or unwittingly, remained apathetic to the sane thoughts of these great men on Rationalism and Eradication of Superstition. I have made an attempt to present these thoughts coherently and in a logical order in the chapter, ‘The Social Reformers of Maharashtra and Eradication of Superstition’. I humbly request the readers to critically examine my thoughts on ‘Secularism’. There exists a traditional line of thought on ‘how to engender secularism in India’. I mean to point out here that these reformers investigated religion constructively so as to create a better, healthier society. The interpretation of religion that most of these social reformers presented was but ‘Vivek Jagar’-awakening of the faculty of discernment. Can this Constructive Religiosity provide a footing for propagation of Secularism? In my opinion the society should be engaged in a positive dialogue on this question. We in the ANS and myself are not much interested in verbal discourses on rationalism. What we really want is to see whether we can, by sharpening our own reasoning and intensifying our own morality, intervene in order to produce some benefit to the society.

 For this book I am indebted to many writers. Some of the major writers from whom I benefitted are Tarkateerh Lakshman Shastri Joshi, G.B. Saradar, M.P. Rege, D.K. Bedekar, D.D. Bandiste, Subodh Javadekar, S.M.Garge, A.H. Salunkhye, Raosaheb Kasbe, and Yashvant Suman. There are many who are not mentioned. I am indebted to all of them and ever remain grateful to them. Any shortcomings or flaws that may be detected are mine.

I will end this prologue with a short note on the present status of eradication of superstition. When the movement was initiated, its work was looked upon as an activity against Buvabaji (god men), Ghosts, Bhanamati, sorcery, etc. which although complementary to the Reform movement was still only a minor action group. During the last 20 years, however, it has progressed through Eradication of Superstitions, Scientific way of thinking, Scientific Outlook, Critique of Religion, Secularism and Rationalism and is now definitely heading towards becoming the main component of the Reform Movement. Even at the stage of Rationalism we are keenly aware of two important concerns. Firstly the ANS respects those who want to be moral with the help of god and religion. ANS however wants to maintain its moral rectitude solely depending on its own conscience. Secondly ANS believes that it is necessary to intervene effectively but peacefully and democratically, in the social life of people by organizing their reasoning capacity; we ought to create a world better than it is today. This is utterly necessary and also achievable. This is the mission of the Rationalist Movements of the day.

 To make individuals rational and to progress towards a rationalist society is the goal of the ANS. Although its main area of work is eradication of superstition, the Samiti looks at it as only the beginning of a constructive dialogue aimed at a rational reform of values. In this regard we are always challenged with a question that needs to be discussed here.

Information-knowledge-scientific thinking is the basic chain of edification. In this age of Inter net, there is no dearth of information. From the ocean of information, one has to think and choose what is useful or necessary for him; e.g. any amount of information is available on Health. But one has to sift and decide what diet, exercise, etc. suits him.  You cannot use this knowledge unless you also use the Scientific Method. There are varied diets and exercises and deciding which ones are appropriate for you is nothing but the scientific method of thinking; for, you examine the pros and cons of all types of diets and exercises before you zero in on any of them. In the present educated society, individuals progress effortlessly up to this stage. While putting knowledge regarding diet, exercise, health or any technical skill to use, the basic chain of edification, information-knowledge-scientific thinking is invariably used. But in the next stage of achieving success or gratification, the scientific method of thinking is given a go by and the traditional thinking takes its place. For success, one has to work scientifically; but along whit this all the prescribed traditional means – Japajapya (repeating lord’s name thousands of times), fire sacrifice, amulets and talismans, poojas, yadnyas, charmed threads and lockets, fasts and whatnot are quite religiously and meticulously observed. To be precise the scientific method of thinking is practiced for success in mundane day to day business; but at the same time the Scientific Outlook is entirely passed over. There is some fundamental difference between the scientific method of thinking and scientific outlook which is overlooked. The scientific method consists of observation, reasoning, inference, mathematical corroboration and experiment. Inquiry (or search of truth), as a value, is limited to these aspects. The pervasive ‘Outlook on Life’ created by Scientific Outlook is not implied in the scientific method of thinking. So those who adopt scientific method of thinking (but not the Scientific Outlook) merrily practice all sorts of superstitions; they don’t feel there is anything wrong in it. Scientific method of thinking is mathematical thinking, precise and calculated. Scientific Outlook goes one step further; it is value oriented. It is a big leap forward. The scientific method of thinking i.e. observation- logic-inference-experiment- aims only at finding something. Curiosity is the sole value involved in this activity and in order to achieve its goal, it need not shy away from the ‘reality of traditional orthodoxy’. For Scientific Outlook curiosity is essential; but along with curiosity other values, viz., correctness (not political), fearlessness, creativity and moral rectitude too are essential A person with scientific outlook has a distinct outlook on life. His research (curiosity) is not misdirected but appropriate. He is certain that the success or failure of his work does not depend on any good or bad external power. He is thoroughly convinced that the universe exists by itself. This proper attitude makes him fearless and free of fatalism and helplessness. The fearlessness makes him creative or innovative. Scientific Outlook being the same as the human conscience, a person with scientific attitude is much more likely to be moral than one without it because he understands well the cause-effect relation of human behavior, viz., ‘I should not do unto others what I don’t want to be done unto me and I should do unto others as I want them to do unto me.’ This is the basis of his morality. However, since for the rationalist creating a moral society is of uppermost importance, he respects even that person who happens to be moral because of his belief in god and religion.

There is a reason for making a mention of this theme in the prologue although it is elaborated at length in the book. And that is because the question -‘how even an educated student of science becomes a victim of superstition’- is raised time and again. The answer to this question is that when the scientific method of thinking is made use of only in self-interest or for fulfillment of academic requirements, the individual invariably regresses towards orthodoxy. And this is not unnatural, for, he has been under the influence of orthodoxy for more than thousand years. His thinking is founded in religion. His behavior is molded by the social environment and conforms to norms of the society. The mental enslavement caused by all these influences is very dangerous. The political or economic enslavement is easily recognized because of the exploitation caused by them. People can be awakened and moved to fight against it. Mental enslavement on the contrary is very convenient for the enslaved who feels comforted in it. Not only does he support and preserve the enslavement but he also organizes, promotes and exalts it. Fighting this enslavement thus becomes very difficult. Awakening people is not enough in this struggle; it needs engendering independent and right thinking, fearless mind and resolute action. More than anything else is the necessity of being ethical.

 I will be gratified if the reader feels encouraged to progress a step further on reading this book

(Preface to his forthcoming English book From Darkness to Light)