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Every Radhe Maa kills my father again

Hamid Dabholkar | Updated on: 21 August 2015, 14:29 IST

The travesty

  • Narendra Dabholkar was shot on 20 August 2013
  • His crime: speaking against superstition
  • Cruel irony: the police did a \'planchette\' to try and crack his murder. (In fact, they claimed they spoke to his spirit to ask him who his murderer was)
  • There\'s been no further movement on the case

The man

Dabholkar\'s son remembers his father:
  • My father named me after the great rationalist Hamid Dalvai
  • \'We don\'t judge a human being by name or religion,\' he said when I asked about my name
  • He never sermonised; my sister and I imbibed his values by observing him

The ideas

  • His efforts, as part of the Andhashraddha Nirmulan Samiti, helped many give up blind faith
  • He also inspired many people to join the fight against superstition
  • The Maharashtra govt passed the anti-superstition bill largely due to his efforts

The effect

  • I was floored by the support from my father\'s colleagues after his death
  • It motivated me to carry on his fight
  • We aspire to make it clear that killing him can\'t kill his thoughts

I was eight. Or maybe 10. I vaguely remember asking my father, Narendra Dabholkar, about my name.

I had reached that age when students in school start associating religion with names. When a bit of banter came my way, I questioned my father. "We do not judge a person by his name or religion," he said. "We should always be looking out for a good human being."

The actual reason behind naming me 'Hamid' was disclosed about four years later, when my father thought I would be able to understand the reason: Just a few months before I was born, Hamid Dalvai, the renowned reformist, had passed away.

My father had been a huge admirer of Mr Dalvai and he told me I was named after him. Since then, it has always been a matter of pride for me.

There was hardly any sermonizing in my upbringing - My father never believed in it. Whether me or my sister Mukta, his values and beliefs had permeated into us merely by observing him at a fairly young age.

Who was Narendra Dabholkar

He was an introvert, akin to me, and I do not remember him losing his temper. There was no marked difference in his demeanour at home and in public.His work was an integral part of his personality.

The way he challenged the minutest of things with logic and rationale was evocative to say the least. He principally opposed the things that defied logic. It was his core nature to do so, and he maintained it till the last breath.

He always said the ability to think rationally is the human being's greatest gift. Precisely what drew him towards the fight against superstition.There was no epiphanic moment as such in his life.

However, traveling with V Premanand, the South Indian rationalist, in the mid-1980s did play a huge part in determining his future path.

Premanand did not leave a single village from Maharashtra untouched during the tour and accompanying him, my father realized the magnitude of exploitation of the uneducated villagers under the garb of religion.

When Premanand addressed the issues and educated the locals regarding rationality, he realized people were longing for someone to speak out against evil forces.

During that time, progressive thinkers in Maharashtra had stopped proliferating after Prabodhankar Thackeray and Gadge Maharaj and my father recognized the importance of persisting with the issue of superstition.

In 1989, the Andhashraddha Nirmulan Samiti (ANIS) was founded.

Since his social commitments go back around 40-45 years, I hardly remember meeting him in those days. In my formative years, he would spend around 22-25 days a month away from home.

He would prepare an itinerary before leaving so we would be aware of his location. There were no mobile phones.

I was not mature enough either to identify with his objectives, but I knew he was up to something different. Whenever I heard him speak of his experiences, it made me aware that he was working towards the emancipation of the society.

I was introduced to his thought much later through his writings and addresses, which ended up shaping my notions. Coming from a liberal family helped a great deal: Not just the immediate family but also the extended one firmly believed in rationality.

The price he paid

My grandmother always told me to do only those things that your conscience allows. And for that, be prepared to pay any price. Tragically, the price that my father paid was death.

The day was 20 August 2013. I was with my family at our Satara home. A busy day loomed ahead and at 8.30 am the phone rang. I was informed about the fatal assault on my father in Pune and my first reaction was disbelief.

We all knew the dangers involved in the kind of work he did. He had endured occasional physical attacks and a few false cases of defamation were filed against him.

But never did I imagine it would go this far. My brief meeting with him two days ago had turned out be the final one.

Exactly two years down the line, I am still looking for the answers I searched for two years ago. There has not been a single breakthrough in the case and we still await justice.

The most disquieting part is the attitude of the authorities. For the past few days, the CBI has been requesting for six officers for the investigation. The chief minister approved it as well.

However, the request has had little to do with the implementation. Moreover, the initial approach of the CBI was distressing. They kept rotating its officers, investigated a crime that occurred in Pune by those sitting in Mumbai.

It smacks of negligence. It may be difficult to spot the fingers which pulled the trigger, but is it so difficult to figure out the thought behind this ghastly act?

The fact that people who tried to implicate him in fabricated cases, who celebrated his murder, who had crossed off his photograph before his assassination are not unknown to anyone troubles me the most. It makes me wonder whether the authorities are serious about nabbing Narendra Dabholkar's killers.

Before the case was handed over to the CBI, the police squandered the first year with some bizarre tactics. They defeated his thought by conducting a planchette to capture the culprits. It was ironical to see the police attempting to solve my father's murder case through the exact means he opposed.

The legacy of Dr Dabholkar

The authorities, willfully or otherwise, may not have given me much to cheer about in the last two years, but the way ANIS activists have stood by me and my family has been heartwarming.

I mentioned earlier that my father did not spend much time with me during my formative years. In fact, his colleagues and workers were luckier than I was, in that regard.

People who implicated him in false cases, celebrated his murder, crossed off his photos are not unknown

But I do not regret that. I feel proud about it today. The same group of people gave me the strength to deal with the calamity. The activists were aggrieved like they lost a family member. We were shell-shocked but realized the need to regroup and continue his battle against superstition. And the way the activists responded to the challenge, makes me proud.

Krishna Chandgude, an activist from Nasik, sidelined his family business and has been a full-time worker of ANIS for the last two years. Sanjay Bansode from Islampur lost his father a mere 15 days before the assassination.

But, overpowering his personal gloom, he was at the forefront of the protest marches and rallies organized in support of Dr. Dabholkar. There are many such examples.

It motivated me to join the initiative full-fledged. Before that, I had been working in the periphery of ANIS but was never a part of its day-to-day workings. Being a psychologist, it was not a tough call for me as superstition and psychology have always been interrelated.

It was our goal to continue his cause because had it been encumbered, it would have meant the victory of his assassins.We aspired to make it explicitly clear that his murder cannot kill his thoughts. We worked with more vigor and did it without any physical retaliation.

Normally, whenever a leader is killed, his followers, in the heat of the moment, react violently. We successfully avoided that and I believe it is a triumph of the ideals he has left behind.

His biggest contribution to the society is the manner in which he was able to transform people.

Madhav Bavge, now a chief secretary of ANIS, was once blinded by superstitions and fraud godmen. My father was addressing a gathering in Latur, which he attended and it made him rethink his mindset. He made his presence felt at the ANIS gatherings and events and gradually transformed into someone he never imagined.

Another great example is a man called Jaggubaba Gorad from Maan Taluka. He himself was a godman who would indulge in all kinds of activities that deceived villagers under the name of religion. He, too, came around like Bavge. Today, he is an integral part of ANIS, who helps locate such fraud gurus exploiting people.

We are merely carrying on from where my father left off. The response is overwhelming. People say the youngsters of the day lack sensitivity and curiosity. However, our experience has been totally different.

They may lack the exposure. But the eagerness to explore the less-trodden path is palpable. We are being deluged with promising youngsters willing to work towards the betterment in their own locality.

A thousand death

However, in the same breath, I must mention that my father dies a new death whenever instances like Radhe Maa and Asaram crop up. It hurts seeing a huge chunk of our electorate completely bowled over.Maharashtra passed the anti-superstition bill after ANIS fought for it for 18 years.

It took my father's death for the government to pass the bill. Nonetheless, it became the only state in the country to have done so. But it is bewildering to see the law not being used effectively.

Radhe Maa is clearly guilty of religious deceit. If used well, the law can enable the authorities to take her to task.

Throughout his career, Dr Dabholkar constantly believed that the lack of analysis of a religion paves way for a fertile ground for the fundamentalists. The example of Radhe Maa confirms it.

The fight has never been against any particular religion, as some have misconstrued it to be. We have deplored fundamentalism irrespective of the religion.But whenever a Radhe Maa crops up or a conservative hides behind the garb of religion to defend his malpractices, it reinforces the need to educate people about the scientific outlook.

It reinstates the importance of someone like Narendra Dabholkar. It makes him all the more relevant. And makes me miss him all over again. The challenges ahead are formidable but we are in no mood to throw in the towel.

As told to Parth MN

First published: 21 August 2015, 3:19 IST