Why does the Oxford of the East need crusaders against superstition? Because, just until recently, 35 km away from Pune sat Tomato Baba, who proclaimed he could cure any disease with his magical tomato juice. About one lakh people would line up every day, many of them carrying the saline bottles they were hooked up to intravenously, to meet him, shared Dr Hamid Dabholkar .
The main focus of the 37-year-old doctor and psychiatrist is to dispel the application of magical remedies for medical problems. He works with the Maharashtra Andhashraddha Nirmoolan Sameeti (MANS) set up by his father, slain rationalist and anti-superstition activist Dr Narendra Dabholkar. Hamid and his elder sister,Mukta , are clear that they are not the only inheritors of their fathers campaign. Ideology is not hereditary and the reins of MANS are in the hands of executive president Avinash Patil. Hamid oversees an MANS cell called Friends of Mind. Most people who seek babas and tantriks could have mental disease. Our volunteers are trained to provide emotional First Aid and then guide to a rational path of psychiatry or counselling, if needed, he said. , Mukta, an educationist, works at uprooting superstitious belief at the childhood level. The organisation has a scientific temperament cultivating cell and Mukta trains teachers to conduct these classes in schools. The idea is to have kids start a conversation with their parents about superstitious practices.
MANS fights all forms of irrationality and caste panchayats are frontal organisations for oppression, based on the caste system. As a result of MANSs activism, Maharashtra became the first state in the country to enact a law against social boycott of individuals or families by caste panchayats. The Maharashtra Prohibition of People from Social Boycott (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2016 got the Presidential consent on June 20, becoming a full-fledged law. To make this possible, MANS recorded 250-300 cases of oppression enabled by caste panchayats including a case where a father was pressured by the caste panchayat to kill his nine-month pregnant daughter for marrying outside her caste. The irony of rational thinking is that its opponents are more aware of its influence and power, Hamid offered. Mukta , who resides in Dapoli, Ratnagiri district, is part of the team that holds parishads in villages along the Konkan belt, asking villagers to relate instances of oppressive sentences meted out by caste panchayats.
All of their documented cases were used to push for the law. There were cases of women being subjected to a virginity test, stressed 42-year-old Mukta . The caste panchayat would provide a white bedsheet and then examine the bleeding caused by the breaking of the hymen on the wedding night. Recently, a girl in the police training academy did not bleed because her hymen was broken by the rigours of physical exercise. The groom was urged by the panchayat to leave her, she said. Where possible, MANS intervenes to mitigate peace.
Data revealed that women were the most oppressed by this prejudice and that social isolation could lead to depression and even suicide. There was a man who killed himself as he could not bear the social boycott of the village; he felt guilty for being the cause of this isolation for his children, Mukta recalled, adding, He had married outside his caste and, for 17 years, no one from his village of 70 houses spoke to him or his children. Social boycott means your business suffers as the clientele bypasses you; you are not granted amenities such as dish TV or electricity as the village technician would not come over out of fear of the panchayat. There might be no one to lift your corpse or provide wood for your pyre.
Mukta and Hamid Dabholkar s work has been to prove that caste discrimination has no place in a democracy and give victims a legal recourse to fight gaoki or the village law. In the long run, MANS hopes to establish shelters for mixed caste couples, where they can seek shelter from vengeful families. There will also be a matchmaking website for those who wish to find a partner outside their community and seminars on pre-marriage counselling for youngsters, urging them to match ideas and ideology instead of horoscopes and castes.
Courtesy: Pune Mirror