The brutal killing of Dr. Narendra Dabholkar (20th August 2013) is a big jolt to the social movement against blind faith and superstitions. During last few decades the tendency for promotion of rational thought parallel to social change came up as Popular Science movement. In Maharashtra it took shape in the form of a movement, Andh Shraddha Nirmoolan Samiti (Committee for Eradication of Blind faith), where it became a powerful campaign for popular awareness, under the leadership of Dr. Narendra Dabholkar. There were those who were uncomfortable due to Dr. Dabholkar’s work against blind faith and superstitions and so he started getting threats to his life. Before his death he got several threats, one of which said, they will give him the same fate as that of Gandhi. After his killing Sanatan Prabhat, a Hindutva ideology paper, which constantly spew poison against him, commented that ‘one gets what one deserves’.
The practitioners and supporters of blind faith surely know that their art is a hoax, were sure that their blind magic can’t kill the pioneer of a rationalist movement, so they did hire assassins to kill Dabholkar. He was recipient of regular abuses from the Hindutva organization, Hindu Janjagruti Samiti, on their web posted claims that they have exposed anti Hindu conspiracy. In their publications they put across abuses for him in gay abandon, one of which read, ‘Dabholkar’s group” should permanently make their faces black for their misdeeds against Hindu religion.”
As such Dabholakar was not against religion or faith. He strongly condemned the practices of blind faith and superstitions, promoted and practiced by Babas and their ilk, who proactively practiced and propagated retrograde practices. Some of these practices like and Karni, Bhanamati are the ones’ in which magical rites are performed in the name of supernatural power. Some other practices are like offering of ash, talisman, charms etc. for the purpose of exorcism and to drive out evil spirits or ghosts. These Godmen and their types claim to be in possession of supernatural powers and advertise this claim. Many a times they claim to be reincarnation of a particular Saint or God, and this way they cheat the gullible and God-fearing simple folks. They do perform so called black magic and spread fear in society. The act which Dabholkar was campaigning for, which the Government adopted after his assassination, makes such practices as an offence under this act. Just a reminder that when this act was first brought up for discussion BJP-Shiv Sean combine strongly opposed the same. He was critical of these irrational practices, and for this he was labeled to be anti Hindu.
Apart from these upholders of politics in the name of Hindu religion other conservatives were also against the activities carried out by his organization. Faith is a complicated phenomenon, true it is needed by a section of society. Faith in supernatural power, faith in institution built around the names of prophets and individuals operating in the name of some religion or God have to some extent provided an emotional support to many in this cruel World with gross deprivations and inequalities. Recognizing this weakness of humans many a religio-entrepreneurs have systematically converted the faith into blind faith, a series of rituals, acts, which are deliberately used to exploit the gullible.
The battle between these two tendencies is old enough. Reason on one side and faith on the other. Reason believes in questioning the existing beliefs and to keep going beyond the prevalent knowledge. Faith, particularly the one constructed around the ‘institutions of religion’ begins with unquestioning subservience to the prevalent norms, beliefs and rituals. Many individuals who go in to establish their enterprises around these rituals, claim to be having divine powers. Incidentally, most of the founders of religions, the prophets, had questioning mind and they questioned the existing norms, values and practices. It is precisely for this that many of them were tormented and punished by the powers that ruled. The clergy, which built institutions around the names of these prophets or supernatural powers, developed rituals in the names of these prophets. The clergy and their practices were most static. Such tendency promotes status quo not only of knowledge but also of social situations and relations. Clergy promoted the social status quo and so demanded unquestioning loyalty to their interpretation of religion and social norms as dictated by them.
There are many incidents in the history, where those who came up with rational thought were not only killed but sometimes harassed to no end. We know the fate of Charvak in India, who questioned the supernatural authorities of Vedas, he was condemned, and his writings were burnt. In Europe, Copernicus and Galileo’s plight at the hand of clergy is another chapter, while the scientists like Bruno, Servatus who argued that diseases are due to Worldly reasons and not due to the wrath of God, were burnt alive by the machinations of clergy. The idea here was very simple, if people start understanding that the diseases are due to bacteria or other etiological factors, the earlier practices of pleasing God through the clergy for healing will come to a halt and clergy’s social power will decline.
In India as the secularization process, the land reforms plus reduction of the hold of clergy remained incomplete, the power of clergy in social field continued. Indian Constitution talks of promotion of scientific temper and people like Nehru kept promoting the inculcation of this scientific temper. Meanwhile the political tendencies operating in the name of religion, kept opposing scientific, rational thinking and kept uncritically glorifying the ancient past, ancient practices cultivated by the clergy to exploit the gullible society, society in the grip of uncertainty and deprivation.
India did witness the rational movements to promote the scientific temper, but its impact in the society remained marginal. With the rise of communal politics from the decade of 1980, the blind faith took a massive leap with hoards of Babas and acharyas, setting up their religious enterprises, enterprises which probably turned out to be most profitable by any standard. One hopes that the business schools are able to calculate the returns on the investments in such enterprises some day. In addition many such Babas extracted the additional bonus of physical pleasures of another kind, the way currently Asaram Bapu is being accused of and so many of them have had their fill. In a crass manner many of the small and high level players also incorporated magical tricks like producing ash and gold from nowhere as their trademark of divine powers. It is these tricks which were being exposed by Dabholkar’s groups.
The practitioners of blind faith and these hoards of five-seven star babas, get their legitimacy and appreciation from leaders of different hues. While those coming from RSS stable are firmly with them at all the levels, even politicians from other tendencies also personally support and follow these tricksters, Babas, Godmen and their whole tribe. The communalists stand to support them ideologically the way Sanatan Sanstha, while abusing Dabholkar also talked of his work being ‘anti Hindu’! A similar trickster, Benny Hynn did public performances for faith healing, and there is no dearth of the ‘Baba Bangali’ series indulging in such trade.
It took Dabholkar’s sacrifice for Mahrashtra Government to pass and bill against blind faith for which Daholkar was struggling from decades. He had collected data that it is women who are the biggest victims of those practicing black magic. He had been talking of taking on the highly rewarding trade of gems and their magic powers, in due course. Alas, that was not to be! Will other state Governments follow suit and try to bring a control on the flourishing trade of blind faith, black magic and its ilk? Will the progressive social movement take up the cause of the major victims of these abominable practices and take the society forward to the path of rational thought, rational culture and rational politics, away from the trappings of the faith based blindness. While our ‘scientific establishment’ has made giant strides the scientific thinking still lags behind as science is being practiced mostly as an instrument and not as a way of life. That’s how in many of science and technology institutions, on Dussera day, computers are worshipped with flowers and by putting vermillion on the forehead of the monitors! Can sacrifice of Dabholar wake up our policy makers to such a serious lacuna in our teaching and practice of science? We seem to have liked the benefits of technology and have been undermining the scientific way of thought and practice, more so after the politics-nationalism has started wearing the cloak of religion.