This question is asked deliberately with the intension of discouraging the ANS activists and spawning prejudice in the minds of people. Not only in Maharashtra but even elsewhere in India all Rationalist movements are confronted with the same question with respect to their part in eradicating superstitions. ANS activities do involve critical appraisal of religious practices directly or indirectly. But those who scrupulously follow age old religious practices, firmly believe that what they practice is the true religion and insist that everyone should follow what they think is true religion. Such people feel threatened by the ANS activity of engendering a critical attitude in the minds of people. When the social psyche becomes critical, people start criticizing religious practices and religion itself. To avoid this the orthodox religionists want to wean away the populace from ANS. That is why they deliberately drum up allegations against the ANS that they oppose only the Hindu religion. What is the truth of the matter? It is as follows:
Superstition is ‘Black marketing’ in the field of faiths. So what religion this black marketer follows should be nobody’s concern; least of all of the ANS. The Samiti has always opposed exploitative Buvabaji and religious rituals that boost superstition where ever and whenever they occur. ANS has various methods of its own for dealing with this exploitative trade. Samiti has fought against many Muslim Baba/Buvas and the details of their fight against them over the last 20 years can be found in the relevant magazines published by the ANS. The Samiti has fought against the Christian Priests who claim that due to their prayers blind people can see again, dumb can start speaking and lame walk like normal men. Samiti has opposed the expensive but meaningless rituals of the Jains; and the ritual of dashing heads against the wall of a village temple, in the Phalatan Taluka, practiced by those who call themselves Bauddhas. Again all those who accuse the ANS of being anti-Hindu can peruse and verify the details of all these battles in the ANS’ magazines.
It is true that majority of the struggles against superstitions involve the Hindus. But that can’t be helped since Hindus constitute 82% of the population of India. Consequently 82% of the struggles that Samiti has fought are against Hindu Superstitions; a large majority indeed!
People are provoked if their superstitions are criticized by others belonging to a religion other than their own. Even criticism of superstition of one caste by another caste causes hatred and ill feeling. Criticism of the thread ceremony of the Brahmins, the banning of widow remarriage prevalent amongst the Marathas, the animal sacrifice by the Dhangar community during fairs, etc. by any caste than the one that observes the superstitious custom leads to not only discontent but even to unrest. Since 82% of the population is Hindu, at least that many ANS activists must be Hindus. Naturally when Hindu activists talk about Muslim superstitions, the Muslims hate it.
The caste structure is exclusively a Hindu socio-religious system. There are roughly 6 to 6 ½ thousand castes among the Hindus. In fact the caste seems to be more important than the religion. Each caste has its own rituals and rites, its own customs and practices and its own traditions and mores. They might have been useful and necessary sometime in the past. But right now most of these rituals, customs and traditions are useless and nothing more than superstitions. The Hindu religion, being much older than other religions, does not have one ‘Book’ of religion and has a plethora of gods and goddesses. In comparison, Christianity is just 2000 years old and has a single ‘Book’ of religion. The Father in the heaven and His Son too are not more than one. Islam is still younger, just 1400 years old and has only one Allah and one Prophet and the Muslims revere only one ‘Book’ of religion. The plethora of Gods and Goddesses, umpteen books of religion and innumerable customs and traditions of the Hindus make a fertile ground for generating superstitions.
An important fact to be considered here is that in the course of the evolution of Hindu Religion there emerged plenty of eminent social reformers who dared criticize superstitions mercilessly. The Charvak and the Lokayat tradition that existed 3 ½ thousand years ago is a conspicuous example of this fact. One can compile a long list of recent Hindu social reformers like Mahatma Phule, Shahu Maharaj, lokahitavadi, Agarkar, Dr. Ambedkar, Savarkar, Prabodhankar Thakare, Gadgebaba and so on and on and that too just from Maharashtra. These great men, in fact cautioned all humanity, not just one religion, to be humane and vigilant but their teaching inadvertently could address only the Hindus. Here, mention of the ruthless examination of religious books undertaken by Savarkar, the Hero of Independence and more important from our view point, eulogized as the ruler of Hindu hearts, is a must. The exposition of the thorough pitiless scrutiny of religious books that he made, illustrates the long tradition of Hindu social reformers who endeavored to eradicate superstitions. The progressive Hindu Reformative sects like the Prarthana Samaj, maintained that there is only one God and one needs no ritual and sanction of the religious Books to pray Him.
Here is what Savarkar has said about religious books of all religions, ‘the man who does not want to become just a telephone of religion and wants to possess a mind and intellect of his own, should overcome his belief in the “word” and nurture the opinion that despite being respectable ‘Books’ and matter for thorough study, the Vedas, the Avesta, the Bible and the Koran are but just manmade tomes and should be studied accordingly. Four centuries ago, Europe was similarly enslaved by the unalterable supremacy of religion; but since the time Europe distanced itself from the Bible and adhered to science, it was freed from the shackles of Shruti-Smriti-Puranokta (codes of behaviour, morality, worship etc. etc. stipulated in the religious tomes of supernatural origin) and became modern and up-to-date; it is now 4000 years ahead of us. It conquered three continents! If the Indian Nation aims to be like Europe, it should close the ‘Book’ of the ancient age, forget the supremacy of Shruti, Smriti and Puran, keep them safely away in libraries and then enter into the age of Science. Those old tomes have the only authority of telling us what happened yesterday. But the science that is objective and experimental, alone is authorized to decide what is appropriate for today. Modernity contains the essence of all that was useful in the past experiences; but the ‘Shruti-Smriti-Puranokt’ cannot have even a speck of modern knowledge. Therefore we ought to be modern and up-to-date. Whether a thing is good or bad, a reform is beneficial or not should be answered, here after, only on one test, i.e. whether it is useful or useless today. Never should the question whether some thing has sanction in the scriptures be ever asked henceforth.’
There are religious powers in Maharashtra and in India, which indulge in selfish politics. They consider themselves to be the contractors dealing in what is good of the Hindus. According to them it is their privilege to decide which reforms in the Hindu religion are necessary and which are not necessary. The ANS being a progressive organization, its activists do not label themselves with the religion and the caste they come from. They do not talk about religion and are in a sense indifferent to it. Some Hindu Organizations, self styled protectors of Hindu religion take advantage of the indifference shown towards religion by progressive organizations and issue edicts as to which religious issues should be talked about and which are prohibited. They intimidate people into following their edicts. It is a way of declaring their monopoly as the protectors of religion. ANS need not and does not recognize their monopoly, because the ANS feels that such parochial self proclaimed protectors and authoritarians had never been the spokesmen of the Hindu religion which is liberal, tolerant and ethical. They are not and will never be the spokesmen of all Hindus. Secondly most of the activists of ANS are born to Hindu parents and are Hindus in the sense that they have not converted to any other religion. So they do have the right to talk about the superstitions in Hindu religion. There is no reason why they should surrender this right to the Hinduists.
Let us for a moment assume that the ANS works for (eradication of superstitions only amongst) the Hindus. But the important issue here is– whether the work undertaken by ANS is good; whether it is desirable and whether it is beneficial to the society. The ANS 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 rooms 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 ANS, 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 ANS, 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.